Our Opinion: No place for hate in a compassionate community

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Unfortunately, from a legal standpoint there doesn't appear to be much the police can do about an anti-Semitic message written on a sidewalk in downtown Brattleboro over the weekend.

The message written in German -"Toten die Juden" - translates to "kill the Jews."

It's no surprise that such a hateful message, scrawled on a sidewalk on Elliot Street, created quite a stir on social media this past weekend.

One Facebook user described the writing as terrible, disgusting and scary.

"This is unacceptable," wrote another.

Most simply clicked on the angry or single-tear emoji to express their alarm and disgust at such an abhorrent display of hatred and ignorance. That this would happen in a community that voted overwhelmingly last year to become part of the international Charter for Compassion shows just how difficult it can be to rid the world of hate and prejudice.

Some are calling for criminal charges against the perpetrator. However, because the phrase was written in chalk, Brattleboro Police Capt. Mike Carignan told the Reformer that an unlawful mischief charge would not be applicable in this case.

"That's basically the legal term for vandalism," he said, noting that the situation would be different had the message been written in paint or marker. A disorderly conduct charge would be complicated, he said, because then "you cross over into the area of First Amendment protections involving freedom of speech."

Regardless, the police department is investigating.

"Someone wrote it," Carignan said. "Someone has inappropriate thoughts involving Jewish people."

Carignan said police want to meet with the individual to "ensure this was just some sick joke and offensive thing to do," and that the individual did not intend to mean harm. The person could be referred to services if they need help, he added.

"We have a couple of leads we're following up on," Carignan told the Reformer.

Whatever happens with that investigation, folks in Brattleboro would do well to follow the lead of one downtown business owner - fight hate with love.

Erin Scaggs, co-owner of Elliot Street Fish, Chips & More, replaced the derogatory message with one of her own. She drew hearts and wrote the word "love" using chalk.

"Chalk art never felt so good," Scaggs told the Reformer.

The reaction on social media to her proactive response was overwhelmingly positive. That speaks more to Brattleboro's true character than the actions of one twisted and misguided individual.

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