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State reps speak out against Saranac Lake graffiti

SARANAC LAKE — Two weeks after racist graffiti was found in Saranac Lake, prompting the leader of a diversity organization to fear for her safety and move out of the village, all the region’s state lawmakers condemned the graffiti as “reprehensible” and “very hurtful.”

State Sen. Betty Little, Assemblyman Dan Stec and Assemblyman Billy Jones each spoke out against the incident on Friday, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement Wednesday evening condemning the graffiti and directing the New York State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to help village police find the perpetrator.

Slurs, expletives and the racist phrase “Go back to Africa” were spray-painted on a railroad trestle bridge over the Saranac River near Pine Street. Other graffiti was found on a nearby bridge that carries Forest Hill Avenue over the train tracks. A village resident discovered the graffiti June 26 and reported it to police, who opened an investigation but have not yet charged anyone. With police permission, the man who found the graffiti painted over it.

The graffiti received new focus Tuesday when Nicky Hylton-Patterson, director of the state-funded Adirondack Diversity Initiative, told the Enterprise she is moving out of this village because of the graffiti. She thinks it was aimed at her because she would run by that bridge most mornings, and she said she hasn’t felt safe living here, as a Black person, since it was found. She also pointed to local officials’ lack of immediate response to the graffiti, plus a Snapchat threat against Black Lives Matter protesters last month.

Hylton-Patterson said she will continue with her job but is moving to an “undisclosed location” elsewhere in the Adirondacks.

The lawmakers’ comments came on a conference call Friday about tourism, hosted by U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and involving more than 20 state elected officials, tourism leaders, chamber of commerce staff and business owners from around New York’s 21st Congressional District.

Little, R-Queensbury, said she was disheartened by the incident.

“It was very hurtful and very sad to have this happen, and it’s not who we are,” she said.

Stec, R-Queensbury, called the graffiti “reprehensible.”

“There’s no reason for it,” he said.

Adirondack Experience Executive Director David Kahn brought up the topic of the graffiti and Hylton-Patterson on the call, saying it is a hurdle to overcome as the region strives for economic recovery.

“Obviously this is not the kind of news that is helpful to the recovery of the Adirondack economy,” Kahn said. “It’s damaging to everyone on this call. … We should consider what we need to do to ensure all potential visitors feel safe.”

In a statement issued after the call, Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said acts of racism and hatred “cannot and will not be tolerated.

“It is most concerning that one of our very own diversity officers feels threatened and unsafe in her own community and this is quite simply unacceptable,” Jones said. “I have personally reached out to her and I have encouraged other officials to reach out to her to express support and encouragement. No individual has the right to use racial slurs against another human being, whether in the form of graffiti or hostile acts and language.”

Jones said the graffiti in Saranac Lake, and a recent hate crime charge in Plattsburgh, “have taught us is that racism exists everywhere and is not unique to one area.

“This was also exemplified by (Saranac Lake High School Class of 2020 Valedictorian Francine Newman’s) compelling graduation speech regarding her trials and tribulations dealing with bigotry in her young life and I commend her for speaking up about her experiences.”

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