A large patch of yellow straw interrupting the park’s expanse of green grass is the only reminder of an ugly symbol of hate that marred Omaha’s Memorial Park over the weekend.
City crews worked quickly to rid the popular park of a 20-by-20-foot swastika burned into the grass about 9 p.m. Saturday. The symbol was etched into a hill that slopes to the west of the park’s white stone monument and American flag that stand as a tribute to many veterans, including those killed in World War II fighting Nazism.
On Monday morning, Parks Department employees tilled, fertilized and reseeded the area. The cleanup was a quiet affair. Some visitors strolled, jogged or walked dogs through the park, but few stopped to watch.
Kelly Petersen and Bre Potter, who both live in the neighborhood, stood chatting nearby after a Monday morning run while Potter’s infant daughter teetered around on the sidewalk.
Neither was aware of the hate symbol that had been left two days prior in the park they often frequent.
“That’s shocking,” Potter said after being told. “Disappointing. Disgusting. I hate it.”
Potter said she sees the incident as a reminder of the racism plaguing her city.
“People ignore racism so much in Omaha and everywhere and don’t see it as a problem,” Potter said. “But something as explicit as that is just so offensive, so wrong. So extreme, too.”
People should combat acts of hate by reporting incidents to authorities, removing the offensive material and sending a message that it is not welcome in the community, said Mary-Beth Muskin, director of the Plains States Region Anti-Defamation League. That’s exactly what happened in this case, she said.
“It is a cowardly act that is done by a few,” Muskin said.
The Omaha Police Department said in a Facebook post Sunday that it’s investigating the “offensive graffiti” as a hate crime and is “sad to see an act of hate marking one of our community parks.” Officials estimated that the vandalism caused about $1,000 in damage. A Parks Department employee said Monday that the grass should regrow in two to four weeks.
The act is not the first display of anti-Semitism in Omaha this summer. In early June, neo-Nazi-type booklets were placed in Little Free Libraries in several neighborhoods. In May, fliers encouraging people to join a white supremacist book club appeared on a traffic light at 50th and Blondo.
Muskin said the Anti-Defamation League has seen a rise in hate crimes over the past several years, but she is proud of the community’s response.
“I think the way to reshape that,” Muskin said, “is just continue what we’re doing as a community.”