What do you do when a swastika appears on your property? The Ansonia Nature Center recently learned.

The Ansonia Nature Center, in Ansonia, Conn. Aug. 30, 2018.

The Ansonia Nature Center, in Ansonia, Conn. Aug. 30, 2018.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

ANSONIA — Evelyn Kubik instantly recognized what she saw and she didn’t like it.

The Ansonia Nature and Recreation Center ranger responded to an email last week alerting the center of a big rock on a trail away from the main grounds. Someone had painted yellow lines in the shape of a swastika.

“I was angry,” Kubik said.

Ansonia police later came to investigate, and she scrubbed off the graffiti soon after. But the staff didn’t know at first how to address the incident to the public.

According to Diane Smith, distinguished lecturer in the Department of Communication, Film and Media Studies at the University of New Haven, these incidents require forceful responses in order to show that hate speech will not be tolerated, no matter how trivial it appears to be.

Lt. Patrick Lynch, of the Ansonia Police Department, said that these incidents are rare and that the swastika appeared old. He said moss was growing over it.

“At this point, that's the only complaint we received, is the only type of vandalism, graffiti type that we've gotten in respect to anything like that in that area, or actually in town,” he said.

Kubik said that the center has had similar incidents in the past, but they happened before she started working there in 2019.

“It seems like every six years or so, something like this crops up,” she said.

Kubik said that she, along with other staffers at the center, struggled at first with a statement. She said they didn’t want the statement to ring hollow, but at the same time, she didn’t want hate speech to be inadvertently amplified. She didn’t want the statement to just criticize the act either.

So she researched other incidents at parks and came across an incident at a park in Westfield, New Jersey. Someone had left a swastika on a park trailer. She learned that a rabbi had said that these incidents need to be known and not kept in the dark.

She said even if the graffiti was made as a prank or to shock people, the very fact that it happened in the city should make residents take pause.

“‘Oh, that doesn't happen in my town,’ But it does, and it happened here in Ansonia. And we should confront that truth,” she said.

So the statement ended up not referencing the swastika but instead centered on the community.

“In the end, we decided to not mention the graffiti, but to instead come out for them in support,” she said.

The statement read: “We at the Ansonia Nature Center believe that diversity is a strength. We believe people of all race, religion, creed, nation of origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical and mental ability should have safe access to the outdoors, and we are committed to keeping our park a welcoming space for all.”

Smith, who is an expert on public relations, said that it’s crucial for organizations to address these incidents. She said people within these communities tend to hear about it by word of mouth. While she acknowledged that it may very well be someone who wanted to provoke a reaction, that is still no excuse.

“It's no longer just a kid with the spray cans. That's not acceptable anymore, you know, kid with a can of spray paint is not what's going on, usually. And even if it is, that has to be stopped,” Smith said.

Smith said that the increase in hate crimes over the past few years makes it more important to respond forcefully. She said had she advised a client on this, she would tell an organization or nonprofit how to effectively respond to these incidents. That would entail asking them to not only issue a statement or a news conference, but to hold an educational seminar or event involving members of the community and police. She said some participants of the Capitol insurrection wore clothes referencing Auschwitz and that more people are openly expressing racist beliefs.

Reporting the incident may risk copycat incidents, but she said that should a back seat to condemning it.

“I think the fear of giving oxygen to these things, has to be a lesser concern than actually taking a really strong stance and trying to prevent it,” she said.

Kubik said that the center has not yet reached out to religious members of the Jewish community. She remembered what she thought about as she wiped off the graffiti.

“I was just thinking that I didn't want to give them the satisfaction of being able to come past here, and know where their mark was, and know that it could only be covered up. I just wanted to erase it and obliterate it and make it not be there anymore,” Kubik said.