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Racially Charged Graffiti Found at High School

Police believe graffiti led to aggravated assault incident, NAACP concerned

Authorities maintain racially charged graffiti found plastered across a football locker room at the high school led to a fight between students at O'Connor Park in West Orange.

School officials, however, dispute the allegations and say the two incidents are unrelated. 

"We do not believe the issue of graffiti in an area of the weight room and the altercation at O'Connor Park are related, but the matter is under investigation. Upon discovery of the inappropriate graffiti in an obscure area of the weight room, it was immediately removed and steps have been taken to prevent such an occurrence in the future," Superintendent of Schools Dr. Anthony Cavanna told Patch Wednesday.

According to the police report, a 15-year-old student from West Orange High School hit another student with a baseball bat after allegedly being called several racial epithets. The incident occurred at the park on Jan. 25; police discovered the graffiti in the locker room Feb. 1.

The student wielding the bat was charged with aggravated assault, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for unlawful means. He was taken to the Essex County Youth House.

When questioned by police, the 15-year-old said he had acted "in retaliation" for racial epithets used against him by fellow students and for graffiti written in the locker room commonly known as "The Bubble," Police Chief James Abbott said.

Police arrived at the school last Wednesday to investigate and found the graffiti had already been removed by the school, Abbott said.

Though authorities did not detail what was written in the locker room, school board attorney Steven Christiano confirmed the graffiti included a "racial epithet" but had since been removed from the walls.

"I definitely don't agree with or condone any racial epithets being inscribed in our schools," board member Sandra Mordecai said during Monday night's board of education meeting.

"It won't be tolerated," board member Michelle Casalino echoed.

The graffiti was written in various sizes, with several of the football players' names also inscribed along one wall.

Tom Puryear, president of the Oranges and Maplewood unit of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said he met with some school and township officials this week and was meeting with the Mayor to discuss the situation.

Puryear said it was his understanding that there was a "direct link" between the fight and the graffiti and was concerned about how long the graffiti had remained inscribed in the locker room before being removed.

"There is a lack of sensitivity that needs to be addressed by appointed and elected officials," Puryear said, adding that he was worried by the "potential that the incident could have escalated into."

Cavanna assured the public Monday night "some remedial steps" had been taken to tackle the problem.

"There were some issues regarding proper supervision of 'The Bubble' and the board is going to investigate that and come up with some answers," Christiano said Monday.

Though he said during the meeting he believed the graffiti was done by an African-American student, officials did not confirm who was involved and did not released the names of the students because they are minors.

The incident remains under investigation by police.

[Editor's note: This story was first published Feb. 7. The story originally stated the fight had occurred at the high school. The fight occurred at O'Connor Park.]

Gary Englert February 08, 2012 at 10:40 PM
I, for one, am not at all sure that there is a "lack of sensitivity" that needs to be addressed based on these two incidents, related or not. Like it or not, whatever strides we've made as a nation and human beings, neither racial prejudice nor ignorance will ever be completely erradicated. I believe out community is more than equal to the task of dealing with either, whenever and wherever they rear their heads.
Mark Paulson February 09, 2012 at 12:30 PM
"I definitely don't agree with or condone any racial epithets being inscribed in our schools," board member Sandra Mordecai said during Monday night's board of education meeting. Golly G.. that's good to know!!!!!
Lori February 09, 2012 at 01:46 PM
I'm concerned about what steps were taken about the incident at the high school. Was the racially charged graffiti just removed? Or were there steps taken to investigate who is responsible and follow up on such? Pretty serious stuff. My daughter will be attending WOHS in 2 years. She is interracial. Do I need to worry about this stuff here in West Orange? Please lets get it together!!!!
Jerome Leslie Eben, AIA, PP February 09, 2012 at 02:14 PM
I would strongly suggest that the District secure the film Pigeon, an 11 minute well acted documentary. The method is to show the film, talk about it in small groups and then shown it again and talk about about what the students see the second time around. The discussions will be extremely enlightening and help OUR community to come together to stamp out hate of any kind. One might ask about the time investment? The entire program including discusions can be shown in a class period. It should be a mandatory for every student to watch and comment on. A film like this is an excellent tool to be used to stop hate in whatever shape it takes and before it festers into something worse in our community. It is a very good investment and one that is needed here in WO, based on the incident reported here. Normally shown to 7th graders before they get to HS, it is not too late to be secured and shown to the entire student body at the WOHS. I have shown this film to youngsters for more than 4 years and led the discussion groups and would be willing tovolunteer my time to do the same at the HS.
barry_geltzeiler February 09, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Lori, i have two kids at the high school and this is an isolated incident. West Orange High to my knowledge does not normally have these type of issues. Your concerns are understandable but I am positive your daughter will fit right in and be fully comfortable. Our school is the real world with all of the positives and negatives represented.
Lisa February 09, 2012 at 02:22 PM
I couldn't agree more Barry. My child has never had a problem in the High School and when I asked about it, I was told that incidences like this do not normally happen there.
Gary Englert February 09, 2012 at 02:32 PM
@ Lori W.: I can pretty much assure you that both the WOPD and the administration at WOHS have the situation well in hand and that your child has little to fear as she looks ahead to starting high school. None of us know the specifics of the particular situation and, as minors were involved, it's unlikely that we ever will. Do keep in mind that this involved the arrest of one 15 year-old (out of 2,000 students and, given his age is likely a freshman who hasn't been there very long) and that justifying a criminal act with some trigger designed to evoke sympathy for the actor is far from unheard of. Still, the paradox for many of us (who are white, liberal and color blind) remains that a word (if used) that would have caused our (equally white, liberal and color blind)mothers to wash our mouths out with soap so pervades popular culture. I've heard it far more frequently from Kanye West and JayZ in my lifetime than anywhere else.
Julius February 13, 2012 at 08:19 PM
No matter how you write it, graffiti is wrong. Graffiti is uninvited vandalism that damages and devalues private property, and costs public and private property owners many billions of dollars a year for repair. In the book DEFACING AMERICA - The Rise of Graffiti Vandalism, I wrote about the harmful nature of graffiti, and the successful examples of preventing graffiti from London to San Francisco. Contact me at www.DefacingAmerica.com
Megan March 12, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I can't find anything about this documentary. Can you give some more information about it?

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