MANCHESTER — Vowing not to let “evil and hatred” darken their community, more than 100 residents, city and state officials attended a vigil Sunday against hate at a city park where a swastika was discovered.
Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart organized the “Take Back Wagner Park: A Vigil Against Hate” in response to the discovery of three swastikas in the Wagner Park neighborhood late last month.
“To say we were all disturbed and concerned is an understatement,” said Stewart. “I think we were all looking for something to stand up and say that these symbols of hate are not welcome in our neighborhood, and they’re not welcome in our community.”
At least two of the symbols were believed to have been painted overnight Oct. 26; the day before a gunman killed 11 worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.
On Saturday morning, Oct. 27, park visitors discovered a swastika spray-painted on the base of the park memorial at Wagner Memorial Park, also known as Pretty Park. The letters “F” “t” and “P” were spray-painted on vertical columns. According to urbandictionary.com, FtP represents an abbreviation of an obscenity directed at police.
Another swastika was spray-painted on the exterior side of a window of an unlocked car that was parked on Oak Street less than a block from the park.
Another graffiti was reportedly found on the glass door of a house on Ash Street.
Speakers at Sunday’s vigil included Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Congressman-elect Chris Pappas of the 1st Congressional District.
“Hate has no place in our great city,” said Craig. “Manchester is a resilient city, that embraces our history. We know how to come together to overcome hardship and persevere. As mayor I stand here with all of you, showing compassion and strength. Support is what makes Manchester a special place and together we’ll continue to make Manchester a welcoming city for all.
“We are a city that has long welcomed immigrants and New Americans from across the globe,” said Pappas. “We must do everything we can to stamp out hate, bigotry and intolerance wherever we see it. This shouldn’t be happening in our city, or any city across the United States of America.”
Rabbi Beth Davidson, who heads up Temple Adath Yeshurun — located about a block from Wagner Park — said she was impressed by the number of people attending Sunday’s vigil.
“It’s cold, people could have been home watching the Patriots, and I would say they were being really patriotic by choosing to come here and stand together to send a clear message that we don’t tolerate hate here, we don’t tolerate it in our city and we shouldn’t tolerate it in our nation,” said Davidson. “For me that was incredibly uplifting, and to be able to do it on Veterans Day, that veterans fought together, is kind of what this is about — the freedom to be what you are.”
“I am a veteran, retired Air Force, and this is the kind of thing you join the military for,” said Bob Bersak. “To make sure people have the right to assemble, to practice their religion, and to say what they want to say — but to do it without hate and violence. Manchester is a great city, and they came out to stand up against this happening in our city. Luckily this wasn’t an act of murder here, but it was scary.”
Craig said it was sad there was a need to hold an event like Sunday’s vigil, but said the large turnout was “comforting.”
“It’s very comforting to see the community turn out and agree that hatred has no place in Manchester,” said Craig. “It’s unfortunate we have these incidents that bring us together but this is indicative of what our community is — we rally around each other and help each other through tough times.”
“The reassuring part is when something that despicable happens, it usually involves a small number of people,” said Stewart. “But as we see from the turnout here today, so many more people show up and say that type of hate has no place here, or across the city. We’ll do our best to wipe hate out, and go forth and spread a much more inclusive message.”