Updated: Oct. 28, 2016
Parents walking their children to Stewart Manor’s Stewart School this morning were shocked to see a number of swastikas spray painted on some of the sidewalks and telephone poles lining Stewart Avenue, the main thoroughfare where the school is located.
There have been issues with graffiti in Stewart Manor dating back to the past year but up until this point, it was innocuous images like smiley faces. For this particular incident, the perpetrator not only sprayed more smiley faces with dark green paint on the sidewalks leading up to the school, but also plastered swastikas along Stewart Avenue in a few different spots that included the telephone pole and corner of Fernwood and also between Elton and Dover.
More smiley face graffiti also wound up on some oak trees and the Welcome to Stewart Manor sign. While aware of the ongoing smiley face graffiti problem, Stewart Manor mom Jennifer Kightlinger was alarmed when she discovered the swastikas on the road to dropping her kids of at school.
“This morning, after dropping my children off at school, I observed swastikas spray-painted on street signs, sidewalks and utility poles. Trees on school grounds, and along Stewart Avenue, have also been defaced with the same smiley faces previously seen on village trees,” she explained. “These acts of vandalism constitute a hate crime. To say otherwise is irresponsible and risks sending a message of permissiveness. This is a crisis moment and the stakes are high. We must make it clear, as a community, that we will not tolerate hate.”
Local resident William, whose home is on the corner of one of the tagging sites and chose not to give his last name, was aghast at what he saw as he was preparing to drive to work and saw a village employee documenting the incident as a squad car from the Nassau County Police Department pulled up.
“I’ve lived here nine years and never seen anything like this,” he explained. “I’ve never even seen litter on the streets and I’m shocked that something like this could happen.”
A subsequent work session held two days later on Oct. 27 that found Stewart Manor Deputy Mayor Michael Onorato and trustees John Egan, M. Carole Schafenberg and William Grogan; and village clerk/treasurer Rosemarie Biehayn discussing ways to address this latest situation. Some of the solutions involved soliciting local officials for grant money to purchase security cameras to place around high-target areas, offering reward money to find the perpetrators and reaching out to see how other communities with similar graffiti issues are dealing with these incidents was discussed.
Roughly 100 feet from the corner of Fernwood and Stewart, a crew from Ramirez Landscaping was laying down sod, unaware of the swastikas plastered on the telephone pole and sidewalk near where they were working. When they were informed what had happened, the reaction was one of somber disbelief.
“Swastikas and Nazis like in Italy?” one worker who chose to remain anonymous asked. “That’s stupid. This is America. Things are different over here.”
—Additional reporting by Christy Hinko