SOUTH ORANGE -- Authorities are investigating several swastikas that were spray-painted along a new bridge in the South Orange section of South Mountain Reservation.
Photos show at least seven swastikas splattered across the bridge with the words "they lie" and the numbers "666." The markings -- made in purple, red, green and black -- were cleaned by Tuesday afternoon after park workers painted and sandblasted the bridge early in the morning, county officials said.Authorities are investigating several swastikas that were spray-painted along a new bridge in the South Orange section of South Mountain Reservation. (Courtesy of Rabbi Jesse Olitzky)Karen Yi | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
"What's happening in South Mountain Reservation is discouraging and maddening," Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. said in a statement. "In Essex County, 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."
Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El in South Orange said some of his congregants called him early in the morning after they saw the symbols.
"As a rabbi it's hard for me to deny that graffiti is just graffiti when I see that. It's an expression of hate, it's a hate symbol," Olitzky told NJ Advance Media. "We know that's not who we are in this town."
The graffiti follows bomb threats made across the country at several religious facilities.
The Camden County Jewish center was forced to evacuate Monday after a bomb threat. The hoax was one of at least eight similar threats across New Jersey this year and one of dozens reported at religious facilities across the U.S., according to state and federal law enforcement officials.
"Theres no denying that there's a spike in anti-Semitic acts and there's a spike in hate acts directed toward many minority groups," Olitzky said. "I think we are living in a society where some believe hate and bigotry is condoned and accepted. I refuse to accept that. I refuse to believe that is who we are as humanity, that is who are as Americans."
Sheriff Armando Fontoura said his department is working with the Prosecutor's Bias Crime Unit to investigate.
"This incident clearly supersedes mere mischievous behavior or graffiti and it cannot and will not be tolerated," Fontoura said. "We have already increased our uniformed and plainclothes patrols in the area. We have also deployed security cameras to this location."
Fontoura said Crimestoppers is offering up to $10,000 as a reward for anyone with information that leads to an arrest.
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