This morning, on my way to meet my running group at the Arlington High School track, I was stunned and disgusted to see a hateful anti-gay slur spray painted on the parking lot pavement next to my car. A few steps away, a similar sentiment was scrawled on the building itself along with a swastika on a nearby trash barrel. I took photos of the graffiti and notified the Arlington Police Department, who were on the scene before I even finished one lap on the track, and the Rainbow Commission, the Department of Health and Human Services, DPW, the Board of Selectmen, the Superintendent, Principal Janger, the Town Manager and the Diversity Task Group were already notified and starting to take action before I had even finished my breakfast.
This, my fellow Town Meeting Members, is how we do things in Arlington. We should be very proud of this immediate response and the seriousness with which every group treated this incident.
Unfortunately, as I learned later this morning, these hate messages outside the school were not the only damage done. There was extensive vandalism throughout the high school from what we now know is 11 individuals, many of whom were caught on exterior surveillance cameras. As the co-chair of the Arlington Human Rights Commission, I have now been privy to hear about too many hate-inspired incidents in Arlington. In the year and a half I have been on the Commission, we have seen the number of these incidents rise, whether it be swastikas, racist, ethnic, anti-gay, hateful graffiti on the bike path, on private property and in school bathrooms. As we talked about last week, words and language matter and these hateful words, scrolled in our public spaces, in the spaces our educators, students, school building workers, and visitors frequent are unacceptable, offensive and frankly, just disgusting.
So tonight, here at Town Meeting, on behalf of the Arlington Human Rights Commission, I would like to state that here in Arlington, we are constantly striving and fighting to be an inclusive, welcoming and equitable community. Incidents and human rights violations like this and others we have responded to have absolutely and unequivocally no place in Arlington. This is not who we are.
That said, if you or someone you know ever feels unsafe or that they are being targeted or treated unfairly or attacked in any way because of their race, gender, ethnicity, or religion, please notify the AHRC and the APD as soon as possible. If you see hate graffiti like I saw this morning, please take a picture of it and share it with us as soon as possible. Please also take a moment during the break tonight to introduce yourself and connect with a current AHRC commissioner, as there are several of us in the room tonight who also serve as fellow Town Meeting Members. I’ll ask them to stand up now: Dave Swanson (Precinct 5), Christine Carney (Precinct 11), Sheri Baron (Precinct 7) and Bill Logan (Precinct 2). We would be more than happy to talk to you.
I want to especially thank AHS Principal Janger for his swift response and impressive mobilizing of the entire AHS community on what should have been a beautiful spring day. I encourage you all to stop by AHS to see the beautiful response of positive messaging that the students chalked on the outside of the building today. Thank you also to the Rainbow Commission for partnering with us to craft a beautiful, thoughtful and empowering statement which I encourage you all to read.
And lastly, I want to ask all of you--everyone in this room--in addition to the important role you all play as Town Officials or Town Meeting Members or visitors, I’d like to ask that everyone tonight commit to being an upstander and not a bystander. When you hear someone--your friend, your family members, your coworkers, a person on the T, on the street, on the internet or in the park--when you hear someone say something derogatory about someone who looks, lives, or loves different than yourselves, it is your job to speak up. The people who wrote this hateful language have likely also spoken that same hateful language out loud, in public and to other people. Let’s stop this hate as soon as we hear it. That is our job as citizens, as residents of Arlington and as human beings. It is our job to make sure that Arlington is a place for all. Thank you.