Church’s “Black Lives Matter” Banner Vandalized

It was unclear whether a recent toilet-paper incident near Old Mill Beach was related to a “Black Lives Matter” bumper sticker on the homeowner’s car.

But there’s no mistaking this vandalism.

Westport’s Unitarian Church is known for its focus on diversity, inclusion, openness and dedication to social justice. Its handsome building in the woods off Lyons Plains Road provides a safe haven for individuals, groups and causes of many kinds.

Last October — after a series of fatal police shootings of blacks — the church dedicated a “Black Lives Matter” banner. Speakers at the dedication included TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey; State Senator Toni Boucher; 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, and Rev. Alison Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church.

The Unitarian Church’s banner.

Unitarian Church representatives say the sign was “just a first step to engage with members of the congregation, local officials, interfaith clergy, and the community to affirm the need for dialogue and non-violent action towards the ending of racism in our society.”

When the banner went up, church officials fielded a number of phone calls. Some were supportive and thankful. Some were questioning. Some were opposed.

David Vita — director of social justice — says, “It made for lively, respectful conversations.”

In the early hours of Thursday morning — just days after neo-Nazis, the KKK and other hate groups marched in Charlottesville — the banner was ripped from its post.

The empty signpost.

Vita says, “It’s hard not to connect the destruction of the banner with a changed political climate, and an emboldened rise in racism.”

Senior minister Rev. Dr. John Morehouse adds, “We presume that those who took our sign feel that by removing it, they repudiate its message that black lives matter just as much as any other life.”

Marpe notes, “Given the current climate in this country and the state, the administration of our town and the Westport Police Department will not stand for this behavior. We will dedicate our resources to identifying the person or persons responsible for this vandalism. We urge our community to be respectful of the opinions of others and their right to express them, even if they may differ from their own. Hatred and bigotry are not welcome here.”

Police Chief Foti Koskinas says, “We support and respect the Unitarian Church, its members and their message of inclusiveness, equality and tolerance.  The police department is working with the church administration to prevent further incidents.”

All that remains of the “Black Lives Matter” banner. (Photo/David Vita)

The church is moving forward. This Sunday’s 10 a.m. service — planned before the incident — is “Heart of Racial Justice.”

Meanwhile, Morehouse promises to replace this sign. If it’s vandalized, it too will be replaced.

That will continue, he says, “until such a time as all lives — black, brown, gay or marginalized — matter as much as white lives do. We will not be intimidated by the forces of bigotry and hate.”

And, he notes, he will commit $100 to the NAACP whenever the banner is vandalized again.

(Anyone with information regarding the vandalism should call the Police Department detective bureau: 203-341-6080.)

39 responses to “Church’s “Black Lives Matter” Banner Vandalized

  1. Katherine Bruan

    That’s a great idea. I will also donate every time there is a hate crime in Westport. The more ways we find to stop the intolerance, the better.

  2. As a gesture of solidarity with the church I suggest that everyone in Westport put a Black Lives Matter sticker on his/her rear bumper. Although I don’t live in Westport I just ordered one for my car. A google search will bring up the web sites of vendors.
    ADW Staples 1956

  3. Christine Schatz

    Dan, do you happen to know if the church will accept donations for a new sign and possibly a hidden security camera? Or if they would prefer donations to the NAACP instead? Thanks for your reporting.

    • Great questions. I’ll find out. Thank you!

      • Rev. Dr. Morehouse says: “We would gratefully accept donations towards a new sign. Please make the check out to the church and put ‘BLM’ in the memo line.” The Unitarian Church’s address is 10 Lyons Plains Rd., Westport, CT 06880.

  4. Bob Stalling

    “We presume that those who took our sign feel that by removing it, they repudiate its message that black lives matter just as much as any other life.”

    That doesn’t make it a fact.

    The article states it was “vandalized” it was “ripped from it’s post” and mentions the “destruction of the banner”……and then states “those who took our sign”‘

    Maybe someone stole (took the sign) without destroying it….maybe they wanted it.

    The article also states –
    “Last October — after a series of fatal police shootings of blacks — the church dedicated a “Black Lives Matter” banner”

    So if Black Lives Matter “presumes” the police are racist….why not “presume” the police are to blame for the “presumed” “destruction” of the banner?

    • Christine Schatz

      I understand your point that nobody knows who took the sign and, even if we did, it would be impossible to get inside his or her head and know exactly what his or her intentions were.
      As you note, someone could have removed the large public banner because they wanted it all to his or herself – who cares about possible police charges when you can have a fetching new living room wall mural? Maybe a bear chewed it off and is foraging through the woods in a new Black Lives Matter column dress, on her way to the woodland ball. We may never know.

      It is a shame that it happened no matter the reason, and thanks Dan for reporting it. I look forward to seeing the sign replaced and making a donation to help.

    • What?

      • Christine Schatz

        That was sarcasm.

        • Christine Schatz

          (The first paragraph was sarcasm. The second was sincere)

          • Glad to hear, because it came off poorly.

            • Christine Schatz

              Ok. It’s sad that we’re living in a time/environment where people could think that the first paragraph was sincere instead of sarcastic. But I apologize for any confusion.

            • Melissa Nelsen

              I was actually shocked at Bob’s first comment insinuating that someone would remove this banner for any other reason than negativity.
              The follow up by Christine clearly pointed out how ludicrous it would be to think someone removed it or stole it for any other reason than either hate or disrespect – and I enjoyed her response, as it pointed this out using humor, rather Than being as direct and blunt as I am!
              Let’s also note that this is the same woman that above offered to donate money towards not only a new banner but video surveillance equipment as well.

    • John McCarthy

      Wait, you forgot to blame Obama or call it a False Flag exercise. I guess you are spacing out the Greatest Hits.

      • Bob Stalling

        Hi John, I haven’t blamed anybody, so why why do you “presume” I did…or forgot to?

    • Bob; The only fact in evidence is that the sign is gone, and to your point, just about every other statement with respect to this incident is based on speculation. However, it is understandable that in an environment in which roaming gangs of criminals are engaged in the destruction of public property because they are “offended” by its mere presence, some might conclude that the sign was taken by individuals who were “offended” by its mere presence.

      • Hi Mike. I’ve surpassed my quota for comments so this will be it…

        First, I believe someone should make a movie about the roaming gangs of criminals in Westport Ct…perhaps “Wealthy Side Story” would be a good name. There could be a scene where kids are smashing mailboxes because they are “offended” by them…

        In my opinion, the only ones who should be offended by such a sign would be the police themselves, Besides being labeled as racists by BLM, there is a video of Black Lives Matter marching in Minnesota chanting “Pigs In A Blanket, Fry Them Like Bacon!’.
        If you were a policeman, would this offend you Mike?

        • David Stalling

          You’re my brother, and I love you, but don’t make light of the roaming gangs of Westport — Ever hear of the Bounty Hunters and Market Gunners? The memories haunt me to this day!

  5. Thank you Bob…….let us all calm down.

    • Who’s not calm? Are you referring to the the sign being stolen or the ‘Black lives matter’ movement as a whole?

  6. Laurie Goldberg

    I agree we should all try to calm down… except no, when a sign disappears then someone DID take it. If it was ripped from its post then someone was not particularly interested in having their own. And where does the “presumption” of police blame come from with a pointer at our police?
    Your quote marks (@Bob) make it seem as though you are sneering at the situation throughout your entire comment. I sure hope I am misreading you.

    • Laurie – “If it was ripped from its post then someone was not particularly interested in having their own”

      One can make a case that if someone takes something, it’s because they want it.

      Laurie – “And where does the “presumption” of police blame come from”

      Not from me….but perhaps from this sentence in the article:

      “Last October — after a series of fatal police shootings of blacks — the church dedicated a “Black Lives Matter” banner”

      And Laurie, as far as your “sneering at the situation” comment, I can assure you I’m not….I’m only pointing out the reality of the situation.

      Bottom Line – The only fact in this story is that someone took the sign.

  7. Tyler…..it appears to me the entire country is not calm. My reference in this posting is to both issues you refer to…..what I see (I can only speak for myself) everyone is so on edge over every incident that ocurrs with accusations, blame, conclusions, etc. STOP…….for just a moment, relax and let those in charge do their job resulting in a reasonable solution and/or conclusion. Very simple……no reading into anything…….and no carrying it any further.

    • I do agree that there are many people on edge right now. I also agree that making assumptions or accusations prematurely might not be the best course….however it’s very hard to deny the connection between the recent vandalism and now the stealing of a very prominant sign; both reading the same phrase. Regarding the movement, it’s hard for me to tell anyone to remain calm who is so passionately motivated to make that very important point.

  8. I rest my previous case!

  9. Valerie DiPrato

    I will donate to replace the sign. At the very least the sign is a good reminder to be kind. In my opinion, there can never be enough reminders even on a beautiful and quiet day in August. In this environment kindness is a choice that , in my experience, never fails. Is there a way to purchase a more permanent sign and can the church relay their opinion in a way that includes more of us such as “We all matter” or something a little more catchy? Whoever took the sign matters too – “He drew a circle that shut me
    out …but love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him IN!” – Outwitted by Edwin Markham

    • Sorry Valerie, they can’t say “All Lives Matter” because it’s considered racist.
      Doubt me? Google it.

      • Valerie DiPrato

        Hi Bob – I don’t doubt you. That’s why I added “something more catchy “- we have a lot of creative citizens in this town – I am willing to leave it up to someone more talented than myself. My point is when possible to be all inclusive. In my opinion, diversity is what makes us interesting and stronger. I may not agree with everyone or anyone for that matter on any given subject but I can always find something interesting about their point of view.

    • David Stalling

      I don’t think saying “All Lives Matter” is racist, and I don’t know anyone who thinks so — in fact, I think most people who say have good intentions. But it has become a common response from and phrase used by those critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.

      The real issue is that, while strictly true, slogans such as “We All Matter” and “All Lives Matter” are tone-deaf slogans that distract from and dismiss problems black people in America face.

      The best explanation I’ve seen so far comes from Reddit. Last year, in an “Explain Like I’m 5” thread, a user named “GeekAesthete” explained it this way:

      “Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!

      The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.
      That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion, and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society.

      The problem is that, in practice, the world doesn’t work that way.

      Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase “black lives matter” also has an implicit “too” at the end: it’s saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying “all lives matter” is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It’s a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means “only black lives matter,” when that is obviously not the case. And so saying “all lives matter” as a direct response to “black lives matter” is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.

  10. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (and women) do nothing.”

  11. Jeff Giannone

    Could this have been a hate crime? Maybe but more likely the banner is hanging in a dorm room or frat house somewhere right now. Why haven’t we heard anything further about the toilet paper “hate crime”? My guess is that guy probably stiffed his lawn boy and got what was coming. The fear and speculation in this town is remarkable.

    • Curious to know what your reaction might be if it actually was a hate crime?

      • Jeff Giannone

        Well, for starters I would be astonished because all the blacks and white supremacists in Westport traditionally always got along nicely. But regardless of whether this is simple vandalism or if factual evidence proved that this was an actual hate crime I would let the police handle it.

  12. …4 comments ago you said you had surpassed your quota of comments….

  13. Kathryn Sirico

    Bob and Jeff…….absolutely agree with you both! Reacting with fear and speculation ignites the spark! Our policeman do NOT get the respect they deserve as they face tremendous danger more than ever in this reactionary climate. Their lives matter. This situation is so blown out of control. Just replace the sign if you choose, end it and move on.

  14. Don L. Bergmann

    I was chatting yesterday with my neighbors who live at the home that was the subject of the “toilet paper attack”, possibly because they have a automobile with a “Black Lives Matter” sign. We speculated how nice it would be if the perpetrators (two were caught on a camera, but not identifiable) came forward and expressed their reasons for what they did. It would also be terrific if the person or persons behind the Unitarian Church vandalism did likewise. Don’t be concerned with criminal sanctions, simply try to understand and promote that understanding by face to face conversations. All would benefit
    Don Bergmann

    • Elaine Marino

      I agree fully that it would be good to understand why people vandalize Black Lives Matter signs. The two “sides” need to talk openly, listen and be understanding of the other’s views. A Maryland woman who spray-painted over the word “black” on a BLM banner in front of an Annapolis church last year was arrested, and required to pay $225 to replace the banner. As reported, she disagrees with Black Lives Matter because she believes that all lives matter and she supports the police.

      The church in question had had seven previous Black Lives Matter banners vandalized, and used the $225 to purchase a new banner that reflects: “Dismantle Racism: Join Us in the Conversation.” I called the church in question today, and confirmed that the new banner has remained untouched since it was installed in July 2016. Kudos to St. Philips Episcopal Church for listening, and for being willing to address this issue in a manner that both “sides” can support.

      http://www.capitalgazette.com/news/for_the_record/ph-ac-cn-mclean-sentence-0718-20160718-story.html