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.
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.
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.”
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.)