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Hate crimes increased in Newton this year

Posted by David Dahl, Regional Editor November 18, 2008 03:19 PM

The number of hate crimes in Newton this year have more than doubled over the previous two years, police said Tuesday.

The spray-painted swastika discovered Saturday at the entrance of the Temple Shalom in West Newton was the city's 15th hate crime this year, said Lt. Bruce Apotheker, Newton's civil rights officer and police spokesman. Newton police classify acts of vandalism and assault as hate crimes, while incidents involving verbal slurs are called hate incidents.

Between 2001 and 2005, the city reported a string of racial and homophobic vandalism incidents. A mural at Bowen Elementary School was spray-painted with "KKK" and "white power" in 2004, which some suspected was aimed at the school's black principal. The same year, racist and homophobic literature was left on the lawns of homes in West Newton. The vandalism and graffiti continued into 2005, when there were 31 hate crimes, primarily in Newton Centre and at the city's schools, Apotheker said.

But over the last two years, the hate crimes and incidents were down. There were six hate crimes in 2007 and seven in 2006. In addition, there was one hate incident this year, two in 2007 and six in 2006. Nine of the incidents this year were anti-semitic in nature, five of them were aimed at African Americans and two were homophobic, police said.

Apotheker said he couldn't point to any specific reason for the increase, but said police aren't calling it a spike.

"We don't see something that hasn't existed in the past," he said. Apotheker said police work with different partners, including the human rights commission, anti-defamation league, and the civil rights division of the attorney general's office to address hate crimes.

"When violations like these are allowed to fester they can grow like a cancer, bringing about fear on an unprecedented scale," Apotheker said. "Based upon this premise, the department uses all available tools allowed by law to investigate these violations."

Mayor David Cohen invited the city's residents to show their support at a community event at the Temple Shalom on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

"Our community is uniting with a loud and clear message that acts of hate and divisiveness such as this one will be and are condemned by all of the people of goodwill in Newton," Cohen said during a press conference on Monday.

-- Rachana Rathi

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