Three more swastikas found in Ballard Park

Symbols of hate continue to litter Ballard Park and trouble the community’s religious leaders.

Ridgefield police uncovered three swastikas on a wooden fence in the park Wednesday, May 23 —18 months after swastikas were first found spray-painted on a playground wall in the park in November 2016.

“I have spoken with the Ridgefield Police Department as well as the First Selectman and other town leaders and know that they too are frustrated and continue to take these incidents very seriously,” wrote Rabbi David Reiner of Congregation Shir Shalom in a letter.

Police did not respond to several Press inquiries as of 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 25.

“The police investigation is thorough and ongoing,” Reiner explained. “While they are not able to share much publicly, the response of the police has been significant and they are eager to apprehend the perpetrator(s).”

Since the incident in November 2016, Ridgefield police have investigated seven incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti and other forms of hate speech — three at Ridgefield High School, one at the Aldrich Museum, another at the Masonic Lodge next to Town Hall, and two more in Ballard Park, including Wednesday’s markings on the park’s wooden fence.

“Witnessing swastikas in a public space is upsetting and unsettling,” Reiner said. “I am sad and disappointed but I do not feel threatened or unsafe. The police have emphasized that, as in the past, there have been no specific references or threats to our congregation or members.  

“Nevertheless, Ridgefield police officers will continue to patrol our property regularly as they have for many years and we continue to review and improve our security (as was discussed during our Security Town Hall Meeting on Monday evening).”

Ongoing solutions

The ongoing series of crimes have prompted town, school and religious leaders to come together to find a solution.

In December, following at least five instances of hate messages — mostly swastikas, also racist words — being found as graffiti in Ridgefield High School or Ballard Park over the last year, First Selectman Rudy Marconi worked with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to organize a workshop that aimed to make Ridgefield more tolerant and welcoming in an age of growing national diversity. The ADL is an organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice and hate.

The Anti-Defamation League offered a $2,000 reward for anyone to come through with information to find the suspect who spray-painted the Masonic Lodge and Aldrich Museum in January.

Members of the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence made a presentation to the group One Just Ridgefield in April.

Also in April, Ballard Park unveiled surveillance cameras.

“I have shared before that the swastikas in Ballard Park are especially disturbing on a personal level: This is the park and playground of choice for our family (and many families in our community),” Reiner said. “Whatever the motive, the ignorance or hatred or divisiveness of others will not anger me or keep me from enjoying a space for gathering with our community. I look forward to spending time in Ballard Park in the days and weeks and months ahead, whether attending a CHIRP concert or playing on the playground with my son.

“It is frustrating and disappointing to write another response to an incident involving a swastika,” he added. “I find comfort knowing that I am not alone, that many in our community share my frustration. I have heard some concerns that nothing has changed in the past eighteen months since the first swastika in Ballard Park.  

“We have invested a lot of time and energy responding to swastikas and other incidents of hatred and bigotry in the past year and a half, partnering with colleagues, town officials, school administrators, and more,” Reiner concluded. “And while this latest incident shows that there is more work ahead, I am appreciative of all that we have accomplished, how we have succeeded in engaging leaders of this community in new and meaningful conversations which will continue to lead to action.”