(JTA) – A meeting called by the mayor of a Boston suburb to discuss prejudice, including anti-Semitism and racism, degenerated into name calling and accusations.
Newton Mayor Setti Warren said he called the April 7 meeting in the wake of several anti-Semitic and racist incidents in the community, especially in the local schools.
Many who attended the forum wanted to keep the focus directed on anti-Semitism, including a woman who held a sign reading “It’s not prejudice, it’s anti-Semitism,” the Boston Globe reported.
Three incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti were reported at predominantly Jewish Newton North High in the days after fans of an opposing Catholic school basketball team shouted anti-Semitic chants during a championship game. And a Newton middle school was the target of at least three incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti since October, including one in March.
At one point in the meeting, Jewish activists heckled an African-American woman who spoke of her son being called a vulgar racist slur at school, according to the newspaper. Also, the superintendent of schools was booed and needed a police escort to his car.
Warren, who is African-American, said that in addition to the anti-Semitic incidents, there have also been racist issues on campus. He noted an incident in which racist questions were emailed to a black student group at Newton North High.
“I was chilled, and just as angry as when I heard about the anti-Semitism,” Warren told those attending the meeting.
Warren called on the crowd to show respect and try to understand their neighbor’s perspective.
In a letter sent to the community following the meeting Warren, who called the community meeting “difficult, but essential,” announced continuing steps to halt the problem, including hiring a civil rights attorney to work with teachers and students to address issues of prejudice and discrimination, and tracking the progress made by the community .
“It will take work on the part of all of us to maintain Newton’s tradition as a welcoming, inclusive community,” Warren wrote. “It is not enough to acknowledge the groundbreaking work that came before us. Each community and each generation must keep up these efforts.”