TOWNSHEND — Town officials have released a public statement condemning hate symbols following the appearance of a Nazi flag at a home on Route 30.
The brief statement, provided to the Reformer on Thursday from Select Board Chairman Sherwood Lake Jr., reads: “The Town of Townshend values all residents and visitors, no matter their backgrounds or identities. While differences of opinions can be celebrated and debated, we condemn symbols of hate being displayed in our town, in disregard of the welcoming nature of our community as a whole.”
Town officials will present this statement at the next Select Board meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 26, in-person and via Zoom, Lake said. He declined to comment further at this time.
The statement is identical to an example provided in an open letter presented to the board by West Townshend resident Jenny Kessler on Oct. 12. At that meeting, Kessler read the letter to the Select Board, noting that the flag’s presence corresponded with the Jewish holidays and calling for a public statement against hate symbols.
Kessler said Thursday that her letter received 348 signatures from local residents.
"I am thrilled and super thankful that the Select Board took the response of the community members seriously, and put serious thought into taking action, which I know can be challenging for town government, so I really appreciate that they were willing to do that," Kessler said.
After noticing the small flag containing the swastika outside the home in town, Kessler connected with West River Valley Mutual Aid, a local group that says it consists of neighbors helping neighbors, with a number of ongoing initiatives that address problems like food insecurity and racism. Through the aid group, Kessler, who is relatively new to the area, learned that Newfane issued a statement condemning racist graffiti last year.
She wrote the letter requesting her town Select Board make a statement in response to the Nazi flag, and publicized the letter online through Front Porch Forum.
"It does make me feel very unsafe, as a human, to see those kinds of things," Kessler, who is not Jewish, said Thursday. "I don't feel personally threatened, but it makes me feel like it's not a safe community, if people feel comfortable displaying something that equates to murdering a huge swath of the population."
Juliette Carr, a South Newfane resident who spoke in support of Kessler's letter on Oct. 12, said she is pleased with the Townshend Select Board's statement. Her family is Jewish, and her young children are expected to attend school in the vicinity of the home that displayed the swastika.
"We are really happy that the Townshend Select Board made this decision and we commend that they are listening to the community on this," Carr said on Thursday. "We appreciate they did it the first time they were asked and that the statement is broad — that deserves a commendation as well. It's a really clear statement of community values."
Carr, a co-founder of West River Valley Mutual Aid, said she hopes the school district releases its own statement in response to the anti-Semitic incident.
"Hope they make a similar decision," she said.