Danvers "Vigil of Inclusion" held after hate crime reports – Eagle-Tribune

Posted By on November 23, 2021

DANVERS After weeks of news stories dominated by local reports of racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, hazing and sexual abuse, residents gathered for a vigil of inclusion as the sun set Saturday afternoon.

About 100 people came together at the gazebo outside of the Danvers library acknowledging the heartache of the victims of such cruelty and slurs and also to mark a new beginning for the town.

Think about what we can do together, said Dr. Dutrochet Dee Djoko, who leads the towns Human Rights and Inclusion Committee.

Please lets reflect where we are and where we want to go, he said, adding this is the beginning of a new Danvers.

Flanked by a group of faith leaders, Djoko said this journey would take time, hard work and often be uncomfortable. He asked the group to reflect as a community so they could move forward.

Small but brilliant flameless candles were handed out to those who attended the vigil. Some stood together in pairs or clutched children. Others stood alone, held a leashed dog or embraced a love one during the solemn event.

The latest hate crime occurred Thursday when a Swastika was found in a student bathroom at the Holten Richmond Middle School for the second time this month.

The anti-Semitic graffiti followed allegations involving the 2019-2020 hockey team recently revealed in news reports. Several investigations were conducted but no charges have been filed.

A former hockey player said younger players were forced to strip naked and were inappropriately touched for Gay Tuesdays. He also said he was beaten with a sex toy for refusing to shout a racial slur on Hard-R Fridays, named for the final r in the n-word.

Some called for discipline against Superintendent Lisa Dana over the hockey issue. However, after meeting Monday night behind closed doors, School Committee members took no action against Dana and released a statement saying their communication with the public, following the investigations, fell short.

The committee also applauded the student-athlete who courageously came forward to shine a light on what is alleged to have occurred and hope he knows that his actions will lead to change.

Following a series of prayers at the vigil, Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem) spoke to the group.

When it hits home it hits the heart, Lovely said.

She said both she and State Rep. Sally Kerans (D-Danvers) will do anything we can to help this community heal.

Kerans lauded the Danvers Human Rights and Inclusion Committee, which she described as a talented and committed group.

She also noted the town gazebo is used in warmer months for happier events, including community concerts. She was also pleased to see the turnout on the library lawn during a more painful time.

The Saturday evening vigil followed a lengthy meeting Thursday night of the Human Rights and Inclusion Committee. The town manager, police chief, school superintendent, School Committee and numerous members of the community attended.

Djoko noted that a priority for the committee is hiring a new Director of Equity & Inclusion. He asked to spread the word to attract as many qualified candidates as possible.

He also said there is concern regarding Police Sgt. Stephen Baldassare, who was coach of the Danvers High School Hockey team when the incidents occurred.

Baldassare resigned as hockey coach in July 2021 but he remains on the police in a job where he supervises the departments school resource officers.

...The perspective is not good. It seems like the officer was negligent in his duty as a coach, said Djoko.

Fellow committee Paul Pawlak said he was just stunned by news reports detailing the hockey team. He said just days before accounts appeared in the Boston media, he had met with Superintendent of Schools Lisa Dana to discuss Martin Luther King Jr. events.

Ill be honest with you. I felt like a complete fool. All the work weve done over the years. Its not right, he said.

Im very disturbed at the way this went down, Pawlak said.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.

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Danvers "Vigil of Inclusion" held after hate crime reports - Eagle-Tribune

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