Kitchener high school teacher paints over racist slur at McLennan skate park

Local high school teacher, Tom O'Connor, felt he needed to do something after he saw a swastika and a racist slur with a hangman figure spray painted on the McLennan skate park in Kitchener.

'I don't know if I necessarily wrapped my head around why people do it'

After Tom O'Connor saw that someone had spray painted a racist slur at the skate park in McLennan Park, he felt he needed to do something about it. So he spray painted '#Not In My KW' over it. (Tom O'Connor)

Local high school teacher Tom O'Connor felt he needed to do something after he saw a swastika and a racist slur with a hangman figure spray painted on the McLennan skate park in Kitchener.  

O'Connor often takes walks through McLennan Park with his family. He said he's used to having conversations with his son about the swear words spray painted around the skate park, but they were shocked with that they saw on Sunday.

"The very first thing we saw was a large N-word that took over about five feet on the west side of the skate park pool," O'Connor explained. 

This racial slur with a figure of a hangman along a symbol of a swastika, were what Tom O'Connor and his family saw at his local skate park on Sunday. (Tom O'Connor)

"My son said that they also had the Nazi symbol and I turned to the north side and I saw the swastika with the 88 under it."

He said that his son seemed concerned and sadden by the situation.

"He couldn't wrap his head around why people would do it and I don't know if I necessarily wrapped my head around why people do it," he said. 

'Not In My KW'

O'Connor took photos and notified the City of Kitchener through the city's Pingstreet app. He also did a callout to see if any local artists would be interested in covering up the graffiti.

But after giving it some thought, O'Connor felt time was of the essence and something had to be done right away.

A swastika was also among some of the graffiti Tom O'Connor noticed at the skate park in McLennan Park in Kitchener. (Tom O'Connor)

"I just thought that there's a lot kids that go through there everyday and go to the skate park before going to school and I didn't want them to see it," he said.

So he went back to the park, painted over the racist graffiti, and added a message of his own: #NotInMyKW.

City Councillor Yvonne Fernandes told CBC News that, generally speaking, the city frowns upon tagging city property, but said it was encouraging to see the act concerned citizens in her ward.

"The positive note to this is that people care and that they didn't just walk past it and said 'Oh well, there's just another racial slur,'" she said.

O'Connor said he brought the experience back to his civic and career class, asking student what they would have done in the same situation.

He told CBC he heard a lot of uncertainty from his students, but most concerning was hearing his students are starting to see the same symbols and racial slurs used more often.

"One of the things that frustrated me [Sunday] night was that I talk to my students all the time about being pro-active citizens and yet here I was [Sunday] night thinking all I've done about this was tweet a picture about it," he said.

"I can't sit here and tell my students and tell my kids to be proactive citizens in the world today and then not put that into practice."


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