SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Hate graffiti was found scrawled on a bridge in a park in Essex County, New Jersey, and the search is under way for the vandals who did it.
The South Orange community came together Tuesday evening to erase the hate. With candles and messages of peace, people gathered tonight on a bridge at South Mountain Reservation where just hours earlier, the walls were covered with messages of hate — several spray painted swastikas and words of intolerance.
“We’re appalled and we don’t stand for hate,” South Orange resident Kathy Greenstone told CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco. “We come together and we speak up about it.”
“We can’t let this become the normal,” Maplewood resident Nate Fisher added.
Rebecca Konstandt was out for a run Tuesday afternoon with two friends when she discovered the disturbing markings.
“It’s the bridge and you see the swastikas, and all this writing,” said Konstandt, of Livingston, “and I just kind of bent over and grabbed my knees, like shed a tear. I’m like, ‘This isn’t happening.’”
The Essex County Parks Department believes the graffiti was scrawled on the bridge sometime late Monday night. Workers went out early Tuesday morning to clear away the swastikas and were still there late in the afternoon.
But for Konstandt, simply cleaning up the graffiti won’t get rid of the bigger issue.
“I’m hoping – I’m hoping and praying it’s just stupid kids who don’t know any better, but somebody taught them that,” she said.
In a statement, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said: “Our diversity is our strength, and our open spaces are there for the enjoyment of everyone. We do not condone the defacing of public areas and we do not tolerate the hateful intent of this graffiti.”
“We don’t accept this… we don’t say, ‘Oh, it’s just on the wall,’ or, ‘Oh, it’s just a silly kid doing it,’” added Ilyse Shainbrown of Livingston. “No matter who does it, where they do it, why they do it — it’s just not acceptable.”
Shainbrown — who works as a Holocaust and genocide educator, but also frequents the reservation with her family — is appalled.
“We’re supposed to educate our people to not hate, and educate our children to not hate,” she said, “so the fact that it’s here, and it’s in the United States – it’s scary.”
The Essex County Sheriff’s office also said it has increased patrols in the area, and has put up security cameras. The Sheriff’s office is offering a $10,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest.