Acts of Vandalism & Hate Crimes Up in 2021 in Salem, Mass.
SALEM, Mass.—Jodi Bee Bakes, a bakery located in downtown Salem, Mass., has repeatedly had its storefront vandalized over the past months, in what the Mayor says is an attempt to shake up the community, more specifically the LGBTQIA+ community.
“As a city that prides itself on being inclusive and welcoming, we strongly condemn these acts,” said Mayor Kimberley Driscoll to The Rainbow Times. “They are more than just cowardly acts of vandalism—they are intended to frighten and discomfort residents in their own community.”
On its storefront, the bakery dons rainbow and trans pride flag stickers, amongst others. But more than once, the owners have found white nationalist symbols on top of the pride stickers seemingly in an attempt to obscure them with the group’s own message — sending a chilling effect through the community. The store has been targeted three times to date since the end of January. The most recent incident took place earlier this month.
According to Jodi Bee Bakes’ owner Liz Lucas, they classify such vandalism as a hate crime.
“The stickers [from the vandals] are always placed right on top of our pride stickers. Considering the placement of the stickers … it’s a reminder that there are people out there who think we shouldn’t exist.”
The propaganda was placed on the storefront from at least one white nationalist group “Patriot Front,” a designated white supremacist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC.
However, Lucas also noted this is not the first time their bakery has seen vandals assault the storefront.
“We were also hit during pride week one year because of the pride flag we hang in the window—they threw trash onto our windows,” Lucas added.
Local police are actively investigating the vandalism, along with other similar incidents popping up throughout the city.
“We have investigated at least 11 incidents since January 1st involving ‘slap tagging’ or spray paint stenciling in the downtown area,” said Acting Chief of Police, Salem Police Department (SPD) Dennis King. “This represents an increase in 2021 of hate crime-based vandalism. In 2020, we had a total of 8 hate/bias based incidents.”
Specifically relating to Jodi Bee Bakes, King noted that there does seem to be anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment involved.
“It appears these actors may be at least partially motivated to cover those expressions that show support to LGBTQ+, while espousing their own hate-based views,” King added.
According to Lucas, the community has offered an outpouring of support whenever an incident has taken place and such messages are posted on their social media channels. The Salem Police Department has been in ongoing contact with them, they noted.
“The police have been good about following up, and seem to be taking this seriously, especially as more places have been hit lately,” Lucas said.
According to King, the department is working together in a coordinated effort with local and federal authorities to put an end to these kinds of targeted events, rooted in white supremacy.
“The Salem Police Department Detectives Division has been assigned the investigations into what we believe is white supremacist ‘Slap Tagging’ of stickers throughout the city,” King said. “We have been monitoring a couple of these groups dating back to last spring. Detective Tom Pelletier is the lead investigator, but all Divisions have been working together in an attempt to identify suspect(s), work with victims, and stop these hate crimes from occurring.”
Enter the feds and other local agencies.
“We have spoken to Federal agencies for intelligence, and other local police agencies experiencing similar incidents to collectively identify suspects and stop it from happening,” King added.
The City Responds
According to Driscoll, the city has allocated resources and has upgraded surveillance to curb and stop these occurrences of hate in the City of Salem.
“The City has condemned both these acts of vandalism and other potentially related incidents that have taken place downtown and other locations,” the Mayor said. “… In addition to the investigation, the Police have redeployed camera assets and increased directed patrols in response.”
Additional assets and investments have been made, Driscoll added.
“The City has invested substantially in a variety of public safety technology measures, including camera systems, to help curb and hold accountable individuals conducting illegal activity like this,” Driscoll said.
The Vandalism has not yet escalated to anything more than “slap tagging” the storefront at Jodi Bee Bakes, however, Lucas expressed some concern about it escalating but is optimistic due to widespread support.
“[It is] a bit, [uneasy] … just waiting for someone to come in and start something about the stickers, about the message of support I posted … These human rights issues are considered ‘political’ to many and they think businesses should stay neutral,” Lucas said. “So far though, customers have had nothing but support for us, which is very reassuring.”
This isn’t the first time an LGBTQIA+ establishment has been targeted in the city, The Rainbow Times, TRT, reported in 2016. After nearly a dozen of incidents of vandalism to some of The Rainbow Times’ newspaper boxes located throughout the city streets, an incendiary device was placed inside one of them and detonated in the middle of the night in the downtown district. The perpetrators were eventually prosecuted, however.
“I hope it doesn’t escalate for us or any of the other businesses targeted,” Lucas said.
According to King, the SPD is particularly aware of incidents and the subsequent effects they have on marginalized groups.
“We are supportive of all crime victims and try to keep them updated of progress made, while also providing ways to help the business deter this type of activity, such as installing security cameras and timely reporting,” Chief King added. “We are especially supportive and aware of the effect it can have on groups already vulnerable, such as the LGBTQ+ community.”
King described in detail what the local police are doing to find and hold those accountable for the anti-LGBTQIA+ acts.
“Our efforts often go unseen by the public, but I can assure you that we have spent a significant amount of time and resources on these incidents,” he said. “We have combed over footage from every city camera, canvassed the surrounding areas, and worked with businesses in the downtown [area] to capture video from their cameras, in addition to deploying investigative techniques to identify those responsible (some of which I can’t identify because it may compromise our investigations).”
Even so, community cooperation and collaboration are key to holding those committing these acts accountable.
“We hope to have the public’s help in reporting incidents and suspicious activity that may be related to this type of hate-based graffiti vandalism,” King said. “We need to identify those involved and hold them responsible. Our investigative efforts will continue to work collaboratively with our law enforcement partners and the community. We will also increase our lines of communications with victims and encourage the reporting of these types of crimes by all members of the community.”
The perpetrators will likely face civil rights violations and criminal charges.
“We anticipate our investigations, conducted thoroughly, will lead to felony criminal charges of vandalism and civil right violations,” King said.
Hate Crimes Legislation
King’s support to prosecute hate crimes goes well beyond Salem’s borders. Currently, “An Act to Reform the Hate Crime Statutes” is before the Massachusetts Legislature and King expressed ardent support for it.
“To help curb the number of these incidents, I fully support the hate crime reform legislation recently filed, which would add gender and immigration status as protected classes, better defines penalties, and opens up the definition of what constitutes a hate crime,” he said.
In Salem, Driscoll urges anyone with information about the incidents occurring at Jodi Bee Bakes or any other location to come forward.
“We encourage anyone with additional information about the perpetrators, or additional acts not yet reported to contact the department at 978-744-1212,” Driscoll said.