Porterville residents say swastikas were visible for “years”

Porterville’s attempt to remove a swastika from the sidewalk on W. Henderson Street

Multiple swastika symbols carved into a tree at Porterville’s Santa Fe Elementary and a sidewalk on West Henderson Ave. have been removed after Porterville residents alerted local officials.

In both instances, residents claim the swastikas have been present for years.

At Santa Fe Elementary School, two swastikas were carved into a tree in a high traffic area in front of the school’s multi-use building and where hundreds of students are let off and are picked up from school.

Santa Fe Elementary is a K-5 dual immersion school where students are taught in English and in Spanish.

Hand used to reference size of swastika at Santa Fe Elementary School

“[…] this act was not done recently. The markings are deep and appear to be several years old,” Santa Fe Elementary principal Olga Ortiz wrote in a statement.

“These symbols have no place in our school settings. Santa Fe Elementary breathes diversity and we pride ourselves in being the opposite of what a swastika symbol has come to represent,” Ortiz wrote in the statement, posted on the “Be the Change – Porterville, CA” Facebook group and shared by Leanna Phelps Heldart

Jason Pommier, Public Information Officer for the Porterville Unified School District, said that he did not know how long the symbols were visible and that he was made aware of them last weekend.

“The Porterville Police Department is aware of it and the Tulare County District Attorney office contacted the school about it after receiving complaints from Porterville residents,” Pommier said.

Pommier said he didn’t know how the symbols could have been visible so long without being removed.

“I just don’t know. If you are at the entrance or by the multi use building you can’t see it. It’s off to the side. So maybe if you weren’t looking for it you wouldn’t see it,” he said.

The bark was removed but a faint outline of the symbol remains

The Valley Voice asked six traffic monitors on Wednesday, working feet from the tree, if they ever noticed the swastikas and all replied no.

“I don’t think I need to say this, but we don’t tolerate that,” Pommier said.

The school decided not to remove the trees and instead instructed maintenance personnel to remove the bark where the swastikas were carved. Remnants of the signs are still visible, though.

In a separate instance, Liz Medina found a swastika carved into the sidewalk on West Henderson, next to a bus stop in front of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“I have contacted numerous people to have it removed and it is still there. Apparently it has been there for a year. This is disgusting and the fact that it’s been there so long is troubling,” Medina wrote in the “Be the Change” group.

“I have contacted numerous people to have it removed and it is still there. Apparently it has been there for a year. This is disgusting and the fact that it’s been there so long is troubling,” she added.

Medina went on to say that she had called the Porterville Police Department and called and emailed the city and Mayor Monte Reyes weeks ago but that she hasn’t heard back.

Shanda Patterson responded on the same thread, “I know exactly where it is….. I’ve seen it there for years. I’ve never attempted to have it removed cuz I figured the city wouldn’t do anything about it. Bad track record.”

Swastika on West Henderson Street before attempts to scratch it out

“We were unaware that the Swastika engraved in the city sidewalk was in front of our Kingdom Hall on Henderson St. Since March of 2020, we haven’t had meetings at the Kingdom Hall due to safety concerns of COVID-19. So it caught us by surprise when we saw the pictures,” Jeff Gregory, Media Contact for Jehovah’s Witnesses for Tulare County, said.

Barry Caplan, a former Porterville resident and area activist, now lives in Visalia but participates in the “Be the Change” group and had choice words for city officials.

“I call on City and School Officials starting directly with Porterville’s City Manager John Lolllis and  PUSD’s Superintendent Nate Nelson to look deeply into themselves and their own willingness to look the other way, and why they felt it was OK not even return phone calls from the public about this matter,” Caplan said. “I want them to understand the effect their ‘Banality of Evil’ leadership style has on their entire staff who looked away for so long and did half jobs at both locations when they did anything at all. I ask them to make public explanations of how this happened on their watch and what they will do to make sure it never happens again.”

The city has since attempted to cover the swastika on the sidewalk but remnants of the symbol can clearly be seen.

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