Valentina Paralitici and Jose Sosa moved to Palm Coast last year to help family through the coronavirus pandemic. They have 5-year-old twins. On Sunday, Paralitici took them to Belle Terre Park, adjacent to Wadsworth Elementary and Frieda Zamba municipal pool.
Soon after the children began playing they ran around one of the gazebos in the small park where their eyes caught sight of fresh, bright-orange graffiti. The color is hard to miss even from a distance. It’s the kind homicide traffic investigators use to mark up pavement at crash scenes. They called their mother’s attention. Someone had drawn a penis on concrete floor at the gazebo’s opening, along with the words “slut,” a related obscenity and what looks like three initials.
“And then she looked up and saw the swastika,” Sosa said of his wife.
On a small rock-climbing wall attached to other climbing and swinging equipment, a white, distinctly angular swastika, suggesting its hand had all the time in the world, had been spray-painted between the rock-shaped knobs meant for the hands and feet of small children. The four capital letters of a blunt, standard profanity were more sloppily sprayed around another rock. A tiny dash of crash-scene orange appears below one of the rocks, like a false start. the vandal(s) had come prepared with alternatives.
Bigoted graffiti isn’t a minor criminal matter: it’s routinely investigated as a hate crime.
Obscenities, bigoted slurs and swastikas have been sprayed from time to time on pavement, on cars or garage doors, and the Confederate flag occasionally makes its appearance at either of the two local high schools. Two years ago it flew at the home of the caretaker on the grounds of Princess Place Preserve. but hate-crime vandalism or hate crimes in general have been rare in Flagler. What was more unusual about the slurs on Sunday were their location: there’d been no such documented incident at a children’s park in recent memory.
What subsequently frustrated Sosa and Paralitici were the responses they got from the Sheriff’s Office, the administrator of a widely read, local school-related Facebook page, and the principal at Wadsworth Elementary, though each in turn reacted with dismay at the find in the park.
Paralitici called law enforcement just before noon and spoke with a deputy after 1 p.m., saying she’d cleaned up as much of the Swastika as she could. The deputy told her he would inform people responsible for the park, who would then clean it up. The brief documentation of the incident the sheriff’s office provided–five lines summarizing the call and contact with Paralitici–makes no mention of an investigation, canvasing of the park or inquiring about any potential surveillance cameras in the area. (The city has installed cameras at numerous city parks.)
The couple tried posting pictures of their find on the Facebook page of Flagler Parent, but its administrator took them down, saying the matter was not school-related and wasn’t in the proper forum. Carmen Sanford, the page’s administrator, said in an interview she was outraged by the graffiti and shared the parents’ dismay at a lack of discussion about it all in general. But she said, accurately, that the incident took place in a city park, not at school, making it a subject for another forum–like a news site. “They have very valid reasons but I simply didn’t want to open that conversation because I knew where it was going to go,” she said, referring to Facebook’s tendency to trigger conflicts and alienate page participants.
Sosa contacted Anna Crawford, the principal at Wadsworth Elementary, where his children attend kindergarten. He let her know what took place. “I am truly sorry that your family experienced this and will follow up with someone to be sure it is cleaned up asap,” Crawford wrote back shortly.
Sosa later wrote: “We are not looking for apologies. We are looking for parents, teachers, schools administrators to do something about it! Dismissing this as kids being kids is the most dangerous thing we can do, and that’s what seems to be happening. My wife and I can’t believe that NO AUTHORITY figure in the area seems alarmed by any of this. Not the police and not the school. It makes matters worst that we are learning these are not isolated incidents either. These acts of hate, in a community with a growing minority population, will inevitably devolve into violence and loss of live if we don’t do something about it.”
Crawford hadn’t actually dismissed the matter as “kids being kids.” She said in a brief interview this evening that there’s no question that the discussion “has got to start with us,” and said she was willing to “facilitate the conversation in any way that I can.” But she was limited by what she could do Sunday. She was at school part of the afternoon and went to the park to see for herself.
“Please know that senseless acts like those you have described are completely unacceptable to me, and that is why I responded to you almost immediately when the email came through earlier today,” Crawford wrote Sosa. “If it were not important to me, I may have waited until tomorrow (Monday) to respond. Instead, I responded multiple times, reached out to the park owners, the City of Palm Coast, to get the graffiti removed (see below), and once I received your information that people were parading near the park and being offensive, I left my office and drove to the back of the school to see how I could help. All of the above was done on a Sunday when schools are closed and administrators are not typically in the building or checking email. However, I want to be as supportive and as helpful as possible to our staff and families.” Crawford explained legal and practical limitations on a Sunday and asked Sosa “that you not assume I have a lack of concern over the events you described today.”
Sosa alluded to the recent spate of children making threats of shooting up schools–and getting arrested for it–which generates recurring calls from school and law enforcement officials to have conversations with children about language and responsibility.
“What we would like is for a conversation to happen between school, police, and how we are going to talk about this at school at the very least just having the school put out any kind of help for minority parents to help them guide their kids through this when they see this kind of symbols,” Sosa, a software engineer who grew up in Puerto Rico, said this evening. (Paralitici is a native of Venezuela.) “It’s not about catching anyone or disciplining anyone. These are kids. It’s just that there seems to be a great problem where different institutions in the county, schools, police, when it happens, they just clean it up and say, this is just kids being kids.” Sosa wants to see these institutions “encourage people to talk about” the issue.
Around 2:15 Sunday afternoon, four or five children were playing in the park, running back and forth by the two spots where the graffiti was still plainly visible. Four teen-agers crossed paths with a reporter as he was walking out of the park after taking pictures of the graffiti. One of them asked if the reporter was with FlaglerLive, another mumbled vulgarities and something about “fake news,” and walked on.
Moments later as the reporter was driving in the parking lot, two of the teens appeared on the sidewalk along the park, brazenly unfurled a full-size Confederate flag, and walked, parade-style, by the car and toward the grounds of Freda Zamba pool. “Shoot this,” they told the reporter as one of the teens held up a phone, taking pictures or video. Asked to come out from behind the flag so they could be photographed, they declined. Told that they might not want to unfurl the flag on the city’s municipal pool property, one of them yelled out something about “heritage.”
It isn’t clear how or why a group of teens would have had a Confederate flag in reserve, ready to be inexplicably unfurled at a moment’s notice in an already twice-defaced city park on a Sunday afternoon.
A spokesperson for Palm Coast government around 4 p.m. today said that the graffiti had been cleaned up at the park, and issued a statement: “It is the top priority of our City Council and City staff to provide an environment that is safe and enjoyable for all of our residents. It is always disheartening any time we see or hear of acts that are destructive to our community. Vandalism is costly to tax payers, causes division within communities, and is not welcome in the City of Palm Coast. We will continue to do our best to stay on top of monitoring and promptly addressing any vandalism when it’s discovered. At the same time we encourage anyone who witnesses such activity to please alert the local Sheriff’s Office and contact our Customer Service Department.”
Sadly, those teenagers probably learned that kind of behavior in their home environment. This is not to be tolerated. This is like the Hitler youth in training, and I would be open to attending an anti-hate, embracing our diversity type event.
The people responsible for doing this need to be held accountable and educated. I am sorely disappointed that our police did not feel that this warranted investigation.
Please remember which of your elected officials did nothing, said nothing, and were complicit in their silence when it comes time to vote.
David Schaefer says
Agree.This was a hate crime period.
I don’t understand why these parents contacted the school, posted in a “Parents’ Facebook group, everything except contact the city Parks and Recreation. Our school admins have ZERO authority on something that happens at a city park.
Bill C says
Didn’t she say she called the police? I guess you missed that part.
Since the 70's says
They might didn’t know who to call but the school would of been a great choice maybe they thought it was their property. They are not from here and the police did nothing.
Palm Coaster 2021 says
I’m not sure why Mr Sosa felt the need to bring the Flagler School District into this horrible situation, when clearly it was at a City of Palm Coast Park. You call the Sheriff’s Dept. You call the city, though you will likely not hear back until Monday. You call the Sheriff’s Dept again. You call Flagler Live. But why try and drag the hard working school administrators into this as they work Sundays? And Flagler Parent’s FB page was correct in removing posts not related to incidents on school property
Mr. Sosa did not call FlaglerLive. We sought him out.
This is what happens saturating Florida with the Crooked Trump Republicans who now feed this type of behavior brainwashing the many former respected Republican voters . Look at WNZF , the local talk shows for the MOST PART are decent . However the most “popular ” talk shows , National ones spread the hate and lies along with Fox News which their lying has been exposed on real news stations . Parents show the example how to be haters . Even the Church goers , seem not to love their neighbors as Christ taught to accept everyone and help the poor , not separate families . Even locally the Commissioners can’t even “impeach ” Mullins . Texas , infrastructure (old fossil fuels froze, etc.) . In 2016 GOP & Dems both ran on infrastructure . GOP had Courts , Executive , House & Senate , crickets on infrastructure . 2018 Dems take House , vote on 400 + bills that passed in the House .
The Senate with the grim reaper McConnell did not even bring infrastructure or any Bill the House put forth .Thank you GOP senators for all the dereliction of duty .
Just a thought says
And now the republican’s are crying the democrats won’t work with them.
David S. says
Including the late dirt bag Rush Limbaugh.
Jim O says
Where is the moderator for this disgusting message from David. Has no place here or anywhere.
The comment was unquestionably in bad taste, but so was Limbaugh, in spades. It would be disingenuous to keep David S.’s comment from appearing.
Limbaugh was trash and far from an Honorable American. The World is better off without him
Your are correct Mark…good riddance!
It is my point too. Isn’t the Flagler county and Palm Coast mainly republican?
Of course this is disgusting, but it appears from the article that Mr. Sosa may need to lighten up just a little bit on a Sunday afternoon. “We are not looking for apologies. We are looking for parents, teachers, and school administrators to do something about it!” OK pal, but again, it’s Sunday afternoon…..
Because Suday is ok for people to be terrorists?
That’s the right attitude: ok, pal , it’s just Sunday, why bother. Loosen up. Why anyone would expect different reaction from this dude?
I understand why the family contacted the school – so that they would consider teaching kids that vulgarities and hate speech are unacceptable. Apparently, the parents of the teens who did this aren’t going to do it. Shame on those who didn’t realize something more needs to be done. Cleaning it up doesn’t solve the real problem. Heritage is one thing, but hate is another.
I agree that whomever painted the graffiti on the play equipment at the park ought to be punished, and that these visible signs only increase discord and ill feelings in our community, I don’t agree with the assumptions in the article. Just because the police report doesn’t contain details, I’m sure the Sheriff’s Office has pulled the camera footage to see if they find any evidence as to who did this. I’m sure that all of the entities involved have had follow-up conversations internally. Why does everyone assume that a basic incident police report contains absolutely everything that is being done in regards to this incident? After a car accident, does the police report contain the details as to how much the insurance adjuster is going to pay out for the damaged car? Does it contain how long the passenger was hospitalized? Does it make mention that the driver is having a disagreement with the insurance company about how much they will cover for the rental car? NO!! Just because it isn’t on the report doesn’t mean nothing is being done. We certainly wouldn’t want a Deputy spending all of his patrol time adding such things to a report, we’d prefer he be patrolling to keep our community as safe as possible. Leave the drama on the stage folks, each response was appropriate and professional.
The Sheriff’s Office is seeking any available surveillance video and has increased patrols of the park area.
Learned behavior by Family Parents Friends Acqaintances. Somewhat guilty by Association. Happening in the last County in the State to DeSegregate the School System comes to no surprise. Embedded in FPC are the roots of Racism and it runs deep in my experience. Regardless of what day or where it was discovered this type of behavior is ongoing there IMO and should not be tolerated.
No doubt this is uncalled for but this article just makes them feel famous and gloat. I work for ***** and we have graffiti all the time. We do not publish it. We clean it up and go on with life.
Don’t make idiots famous!
These criminals should be found and tried as domestic terrorist and charged with hate crimes
J White Sox says
Let a few teenagers terrorize you with hate symbols and profane images outside YOUR door. Then, if you protest, we can say, “Over-react much?”
Prosecute teens as domestic terrorists? A little draconian don’t you think ?
Was their sole intent to intimidate and terrorize the public on an idealogical and hateful basis?
If so then no, no overreaction. Just common sense.
No. They will grow up and become insurrectionists that think a fair election was stolen and the only way to “protect” democracy is to invade the Capitol and look for someone to take hostage and/or kill. Or they think threatening lives a la Whitmer and others is the American way of life. You know damn well enough if these “kids” were Muslim or black what thoughts would be going through your head.
Let’s try unity says
Wow, can I get the time it took to read this comment back? You can’t control everything or everyone. Kids do stuff
Get over yourselves says
OMG……. one little Penis and a swastika and all the left wing radicals come out crying ” Trump supporters, Racism, Political puns ”
Back in the 60’s I remember playing at the local playgrounds and there where BLACK POWER FIST everywhere…. Lighten up Francis !!!!
This is the attitude that got us in the situation we were in for 4 years. I had family that fought in world war 1 and 2 on the British side we didn’t come in at the last inning. So the hate signs you think are ok with aren’t wake up.
Agree especially when one stated “Its part of our Heritage”. No no its not That’s learned from Adults in hand me down fashion plain and simple.
Are you saying that the black power fist is somehow hateful or racist? The world famous black power fist that is a symbol of solidarity and honor? That black power fist? You are actually trying to lump it in with hateful symbols like the swastika and confederate flag!? Please take a history lesson.
Marilyn Cichocki says
I think perhaps the police need to drive by these parks more often to catch the offenders and when they do, punish them by perhaps cleaning up what they did and some cleanup up of our local roads; garbage, cans, fast food papers, etc. Sound like like they don’t have enough to do with their time. First notify their parents, and then assign them some public work to do!!! Let them know it is a crime, damaging public property!!!!!
But I’m sure in your little feeble rational minds if the “hate” supports your politics then it’s “peaceful” protests – or harassing restaurant patrons- or intimidating a kid wearing a maga hat- two faced phonies, your part of the “hate” problem.
Accuse then project. Learned your lessons well. Let’s just say you may be RIGHT(WING) LOL
Let’s not forget the Confederate flag was the flag of Southern Democrats, who wanted to protect slavery, and it was the Republican Party that was founded to eliminate slavery. It was the Southern Democrats that founded the KKK, and who passed the Jim Crow laws. More Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act as a percentage than Democrats did. Remember whose flag the stars and bars was.
Let us also remember that the two parties have flipped and now the Republican Party is the party of voter suppression and white supremacy.
Yes, what you are saying is true. It seems that Southern Democrats have evolved, on the other hand other groups have regressed.
The parents of the small children at the park may not have known that a park behind a school was not school property.
I am glad that so many of our city community members here have their heads over their shoulders while writing these comments. Yes I totally agree with the Sosa’s contacting all the agencies that did contact because hate is cultivated by the adults in their home and fed to their children which transport and wear it to school, parks, vehicles while driving and their every day life as the Hitler Youth did back then. That graffiti is hate and as such has to be investigated in depth by the sheriff specially reviewing any park surveillance cameras that our city at this point should have installed and working there to preserve specially children safety. We will all be waiting for the sheriff investigation outcome on these vandals.
Once the bigot punks caught, I agree that their punishment should be community work specially cleaning up our parks and roads from the huge amount of out of cars windows litter seeing in the last few years all around our city. Their parents also need counseling to be paid by them, to prevent the negative indoctrination they influence to their kids. We live in red state Florida but should not justify hate display! Thank you Pierre for your reporting and take my apologies for those bigoted punks insults. They don’t know any better as is all about their parents racist, vulgar indoctrination!
It all starts at home. Identify the teens and arrest the parents. That would get some attention. So much in the world today could have been prevented with some decent parenting.
@”It all starts at home…”
Indeed. And make no mistake, FlaglerLive reported on a hate crime.
The next step, in this case, depends entirely on those whom swear to serve, protect, and defend the rest of us. WE are waiting.
Doorbell cams, CCTV, etc., may help. There is much more that could too, e.g., CSLI data.
The proper authorities are abundantly aware of a very important tool: cell site location information from a cell phone company—the detailed geolocation information generated by a cellphone’s communication with cell towers. They need only properly initiate an investigation – and investigate, including properly requested warrants:
Summary: The Supreme Court Rules in Carpenter v. United States
Considering the lengths desantis went to to retaliate against Rebekah Jones, it would be the least he, and floriduh, ought do in this case.