Published in the Asbury Park Press 3/09/04

School graffiti: Scrawled bias just as hurtful

Too often lately, we open the newspaper and read about another incident of bias graffiti in one of our county's schools. This is of special concern to the Monmouth County Human Relations Commission, as we are dedicated to opposing prejudice, bias and hate wherever we find it.

Words scrawled on bathroom walls, lockers or classroom chalkboards frustrate school officials and law enforcement alike when they cannot be traced to a definite source. Most of us want to believe that actions have a rational basis -- that there is a reason for such vile statements. Anonymous acts lead some to condemn the school environment, the community or the parents for permitting a climate wh ere young people give expression to base sentiments.

The dismaying fact is that, in many cases, young people do things, such as graffiti, simply because they can. Hidden by anonymity, they may want the shocked reaction the graffiti will bring. While there may be instances of organized hate groups -- accessible through the Internet, influencing impressionable local youth -- there is often the lack of any rational explanation for hastily scribbled hat e.

So what do we do? We do not ignore or dismiss any expression, anonymous or signed, that denigrates or threatens any group. We report them to law enforcement and call our commission's hate/bias hotline at (732) 303-7666. We applaud schools and entire districts that have programs to educate their students on the damaging effects of such expressions and take them seriously. We support the efforts o f law enforcement to get to the source of such statements by interviewing dozens of students, even if they still come up empty. And we urge parents to set a positive tone in the home where derogatory language is simply not acceptable.

If a source of bias graffiti can be identified, it should be fully exposed. If it cannot, we should all seriously consider what we can do to create an environment in which no young person seeks even momentary recognition through an expression of hate.

Linda Zucaro