Incident on Ojai Middle School Campus, Where Students Formed Into Swastika, Sparks Conversation on Hate

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Matilija Junior High School is shown in a Street View image from Google Maps.

Matilija Junior High School is shown in a Street View image from Google Maps.

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A black man stood to face his neighbors, choking up as he recounted how every day, some person or another crossed the street when they saw him coming. In Ojai, a pretty place he calls home, people routinely ignore him.

A woman’s voice wavered as she shared the text that her son, whose father is Jewish, recently received: “I heard your entire family was flammable.” To make sure the point was clear, she said, there had been a follow-up message. “You get the reference. World War II.”

It was a swastika that had brought these Ojai residents together, one formed in December by Matilija Junior High School students on the soccer field. Media coverage prompted outrage in the town, leading to the community forum held earlier this month by the Ojai Unified School District.

Authorities say few hate incidents are reported in this liberal valley town known as a haven for spiritual seekers, health enthusiasts and celebrities — a place with wine-tasting rooms and art galleries along the main drag, where a banner recently touted the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.

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