Racially themed vandalism found at Williams; state launches hotline

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WILLIAMSTOWN - Racially themed graffiti and vandalism found inside a Williams College building over the weekend does not pose an immediate threat, according to the administration.

In an email signed by Williams College President Adam Falk, a determination whether the graffiti found inside of Griffin Hall is a "bias incident," has yet to be made.

The Williams report comes amid a spike in racially tinged incidents around the country, including anti-Semitic or racist graffiti and instances of harassment and intimidation in schools, which have prompted the state Attorney General's Office to set up a hotline.

In the Williams case, a "wood stain type substance" was splattered down the stairs from the top to bottom floor sometime early Saturday, and the words "AMKKK KILL" were left behind scrawled on the wall along the stairs.

The same paint also was found on posters outside of the building, according to the college.

The person who first reported the damage described the paint or stain as looking like blood.

Williamstown Police and Campus Safety and Security are investigating and state police and the FBI have also been notified, according to the school. Campus security has interviewed more than 40 people in connection with the investigation.

The message did not convey a direct threat toward any specific individuals or groups, Falk said, nor did it suggest an immediate danger, which is why the campus was not immediately alerted.

"Had there been a confirmed threat to our community, we would have communicated with you about it immediately," according to the email.

"We worried - without any information about the intent behind the act of vandalism - about the impact of an immediate campuswide notification on our community, including the possibility it would cause fear," according to the email, which was addressed to the Williams community. "We thought it important and responsible to wait until we investigated further, in the hope we would soon have more complete information to share."

About five years ago, Williams College closed its campus for a day after the discovery of graffiti in a dormitory hall which read, "All ni----s must die."

The most recent incident appears to be isolated, Williamstown Police said Monday afternoon, and a number of Berkshire County police departments, including Pittsfield, Adams, North Adams, Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge, West Stockbridge, Lanesborough and Great Barrington, say they have not received any recent reports of similar incidents.

While it has yet to be determined if the Williams incident is related in any way to the recent presidential election, enough reports of harassment of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTQ people, women and immigrants have occurred since then to prompt the state's Attorney General to establish a hotline for reporting of such incidents.

"In Massachusetts, we will protect people's rights, fight discrimination and keep people safe," according to a statement released Monday by Attorney General Maura Healy.

"There are reports from around the country following the election that people have been targeted and subjected to conduct that imperils safety and civil rights," Healy's statement reads. "Such conduct has no place in Massachusetts."

In the same statement, Chief Brian Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs, pledged the support of police departments throughout the state.

"The police departments across the commonwealth are committed to ensuring that the constitutional rights of all individuals ... are not violated by any form of harassment and/or intimidation contrary to the law and stand ready to investigate any allegations of wrongdoing and take the appropriate enforcement action," Kyes said.

Among the nationwide reports of racially based intimidation following last week's election:

- A Pennsylvania high school student carried a Donald Trump banner through the school and shouted "white power."

- In Redding, Calif., a student was seen handing out "deportation notices" to fellow students;

- A swastika was painted on a park wall in Wellsville, N.Y., with the message "Make America white again;"

- And students at a Michigan middle school were heard shouting "Build the wall," a nod to Trump's proposal to construct a wall along the border with Mexico to control illegal immigration.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks hate groups and hate crimes, has reported at least 300 incidents of hate incidents and crimes since Election Day.

Closer to home, a section of Mount Tom in Easthampton was defaced with racist, anti-Semitic and pro-Trump graffiti in the days leading up to the election, including "gas the Jews," "Trump 2016" and a swastika.

In an interview with "60 Minutes," which aired Sunday evening, Trump said he was "saddened" and "surprised," to hear about the harassment and threats toward minorities and told those responsible to "Stop it."

Healy said any resident who has witnessed or experienced bias-motivated threats, harassment or violence can call the hotline at 1-800-994-3228 or fill out a civil rights complaint form at www.mass.gov/ago or via its social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Healy said potential hate crimes should also be reported to local police.

Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn on Twitter.


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