Friday, 13 January 2017 10:05

City Police, School District Investigate Hate Speech

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The 18-year-old was between classes and walking through the halls of her high school last week when the actions of a fellow student jarred her into consciousness. “A kid from one of my classes, who I don’t even really know did the Nazi salute. I stopped and looked at him and didn’t even know what to say,” said senior class student Channah Goldman.

She continued walking, to the school library, where she sat at a desk, took out her books and looked down at the series of symbols carved into the desk top. “There were swastikas all over the desk,” said the student, who has visited concentration camps overseas and has seen the fingernail scratches on the chamber walls of victims who were killed. “I felt physically ill and moved to another desk. And there was another one.”

Goldman said a librarian was apologetic and immediately set to the task of cleaning the desks. The student’s captured images show carvings embedded so deeply the desks required a sanding-over and new artwork drawn atop them to obfuscate the hate symbols. Both the incidents were brought to the attention of the school, and it appears they are being resolved internally, according to Goldman, but when her 14-year-old brother, who is also a student in the school district, noticed an Instagram account which appears to represent “Saratoga High School Fourth Reich,” and referenced neo-Nazis, the police got involved.

“My brother came across it and showed it to me,” Goldman said. “He showed it to my family and everyone was really concerned. The school started looking into it and taking it seriously.”

“When we first learned of the Instagram Account, we were involved from the get-go,” said city Police Lt. Robert Jillson. “At this point, we haven’t deciphered the creator of the account, but we did go in and interview in excess of 30 students who followed the account.” The city police department has a school resource officer, or SRO, who works at the school full-time. Investigators determined that students who had opted to follow the account did so based on the name recognition of their high school, but had not delved deeper into the account to learn of its neo-Nazi references. “The intention of the people who created the account, that could be concerning, and we’d like to know and the school would like to know the intention behind it,” Lt. Jillson said.

Swastika graffiti has recently been discovered in at least two locations in the city – near the Caroline Street elementary school and on the Spring Run Trail, as well as other places in the region. The anti-Semitic acts are not new, internationally, or regionally. One hundred and forty years ago, Joseph Seligman, an American banker and financial advisor to the administrations of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, was famously said to have been barred from staying at the fabled Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga Springs because the hotel’s owner, Judge Henry Hilton, insisted that Jews be excluded from the hotel. According to historian Lee Livney, the “Hilton-Seligman Affair” was featured and editorialized in newspapers coast-to-coast at the time, and has come to be known as a focal point of the origins of American anti-Semitism.

A letter penned by Michael Piccirillo, Superintendent of Saratoga Springs Schools, on Wednesday informed members of the school community about the Instagram account.

“I wish to make clear that the views expressed on this site (SHS4R) are not representative of the school district’s beliefs nor are they authorized in any way or representative of any club or activity associated with the school district. The Saratoga Springs City School District denounces any speech which promotes acts of hatred or violence against any individual or group,” Piccirillo said. “The SHS4R page directly refers to a site that espouses white supremacy and anti-Semitic rhetoric. In addition, the moniker SHS4R inappropriately and without any permission directly relates the name of our high school to concepts expressed by Nazi Germany.” The letter concludes: “It is incumbent upon us to take an active role in exposing intolerance and teaching our children to celebrate diversity as a strength. We ask all parents to speak with their own children about such ideals and encourage the same diversity and inclusiveness we promote at school. Together we can strengthen our culture and build a strong foundation supported by acceptance and the celebration of our diversity.” Piccirillo was away from the office mid-week and unavailable for direct comment, according to a school spokesperson.

“This is not new and it’s not specific just to the Saratoga School District, but the urgency in which they reacted is commendable,” said Goldman’s mother, Kelly Hillis. “I cannot be more satisfied with what the school did. They could’ve kept it quiet but chose to bring it out into the light and make it a learning opportunity. As far as the kid giving the Nazi salute, the kid was spoken to the next day. With the swastikas, I immediately spoke to someone at the school and within 24 hours someone at the school called me to apologize,” said Hillis, who added she believes the hateful symbols were carved into desks by kids who don’t know any better and that the school can only do so much. A large part of the responsibility of teaching acceptance for, and the beauty of diversity takes place in the home between parents and children, she said. “They haven’t been taught that the symbols are hateful symbols.

“My hope is by bringing this into the light, other kids will say: hey, here’s a kid in my school. She’s my friend. She’s one of us, and look how others are making her feel bad. Just to bring that home,” she said. “Just to bring that home.”

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