Racist graffiti found at Keyes Park; Appel: Hate itself should not have a home

MILFORD – One week and two days after a radical mob bearing Donald Trump shirts, flags and other swag stormed the United States Capitol, spray-painted racist graffiti that read, “Jesus Loves White Children,” was discovered on Friday morning, Jan. 15, by Rev. Shayna Appel, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation Church in Milford.

According to Milford town clerk Joan Dargie, Milford’s department of public works was immediately contacted and the offensive message was removed.

“We received her call and we in turn contacted the town administrator,” Dargie said. “The DPW is incredibly responsive to issue like these and they took care of it right away.”

According to Milford police Capt. Craig Fryer, the MPD did not have any knowledge of the vandalism to the parking lot.

Appel said the graffiti appeared on the ground near a railing in the upper parking lot at Keyes Memorial Park.

“I can’t say that I was surprised by anything that happened last week,” she said. “I wish I could say that I was. But given the trajectory of hate in this country over the course of the last four years in particular, I think the events on Wednesday were foreseeable.”

Appel added that she was not surprised to find that type of message in Milford. She added that there are people in any community who are allowed to exercise their right to free speech but hate itself should not have a home.

“It can be ugly,” she said of certain posts in the Milford area that appear on Facebook. “It is disheartening and when I can get beyond the need to tune it out and actually try to hear what is behind this, there is a tremendous amount of anger and a tremendous amount of fear. America is changing.”

As a minister, Appel said her impulse is to “want to help.”

“‘Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid, that’s what I want to tell people,” she said. “But again, if people are feeding on one stream of thought because they feel disenfranchised – and I get it – the way to be enfranchised and be a part of the change is to be a part of the change. Unfortunately, I think people have been lied to. Some of them I hold more accountable than others because for some of them, they should know better.”

The message that was spray painted struck Appel as ironic, she shared.

“‘Really?” she asked. “The brown Jewish boy from Bethlehem, really? What do you even say to that? I saw it and it made my stomach roll over. I called the town manager right away to let him know what was going on.”

Appel was compelled by other members of the church to contact the Cabinet.

“People should know this is not just Washington, D.C., it’s not just Wisconsin, it’s not just Michigan, it’s here,” she said. “There has been this ginormous shift and you have the extremes at both ends and then there are people in the middle who are simply trying to figure this out.”

This follows neo-Nazi propaganda that appeared on street signs and trailheads back in Milford back in October.

The Nationalist Social Club, also known as the 131 Crew, is a white supremacist group with regional chapters across the nation. Many images of the NSC propaganda began circulating on social media at the end of Oct. 2020.

“It’s very disturbing,” Capt. Frye said at the time. Flyers calling for “white men” to organize a local crew were taken down the same day they were discovered.

Appel said that some people have been taught to fear people who are different from them.

“Taught to fear black and brown-skinned people,” she said. “Taught to fear people who are Latinex and indigenous and part of the LGBTQ community. They’ve been taught to fear those people for so long, and they’ve been taught largely by people who look like the people who ransacked the Capitol last week.”

Watching the “shift,” Appel said, “you can practically smell the rubber burning in this nation.”

“A lot of people were really surprised,” she said. “But I’ve been in this anti-racist stuff since 1978 or ’79. So when I drive around and see a confederate flag and the United States of America flag hanging on someone’s house, nobody needs to do the math for me.”

Appel said right now, any changes to the situation remain to be seen.

“Culturally, people understand that this is not an issue of free speech,” she said. “It’s one thing to speak what you believe respectfully, and it’s another thing to speak in such a way as to encourage people into seditious acts. That is not protected by our constitution. It is one thing to respectfully speak one’s mind on a matter and listen. It’s another thing to speak one’s mind in a way that seeks to obliterate anyone that has a different point of view.”

Appel said that hate has become a matter of “toxic individualism.”

“All these wonderful notions that are at the heart of our democracy that have to do with the common good seem to have gone the way of the rotary telephone.”

The minister said that having lived in Milford she knows a lot of people in town and that she has friends who are Republicans and who voted for Donald Trump that she calls friends.

“I don’t believe that they stand for what happened on Jan. 6 in any proximity,” Appel explained. “I do think it’s important for us to not demonize folks. Because otherwise we become the very thing that we deplore.”