The Black Lives Matter banner outside the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church was stolen Saturday, according to church member Dwight Schenk. Though it’s been out there for some time, it was only last week that letters to the editor criticizing the banner surfaced.
Schenk, a Rindge resident, said whoever stole the vinyl banner planned it, because it was attached to the church with an 8th-of-an-inch steel cable. Its loss has been reported to police, he said.
“I’m disappointed that that would be the reaction, rather than coming to us for discussion of the issue, which was the intention,” Schenk said, noting church members had hoped the banner would be an opportunity for the community to discuss the issue of racism. “We were really unsure whether we were preaching to the choir, or if there were some buried issues lurking. Clearly, there’s room for discussion. We’re not all on the same page. We ought to start that discussion.”
The decision to put the sign up came about as a result of the national Unitarian Universalist Association’s yearlong efforts in 2015 to support the Black Lives Movement, Schenk said. In January, inspired by the national association, the Peterborough church’s Social Justice Committee offered a service in which it advocated joining in support of Black Lives Matter.
“When you notice things [that are] wrong, it’s incumbent upon you to say something,” Schenk said. Even though Peterborough doesn’t have direct contact with such issues on a daily basis, church members still feel a responsibility, he said, “to speak out in the face of it and do what we can to correct it.”
For others, however, the Black Lives Matter movement is too closely associated with anti-police rhetoric. Brad Banks and Kevin Brace, both of Peterborough, have each written letters to the editor expressing concern.
Banks said Wednesday he understands the message of the words, “black lives matter,” but he can’t support groups whose members chant negative messages about police. “You can’t have it both ways,” he said.
Banks also said supporting one group over others isn’t the answer. “It’s just picking out one problem in a world of problems,” he said, adding that like the rainbow flag that flies at the church in support of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people, the Black Lives Matter banner is not necessary. “I don’t think that’s the way to achieve world peace.”
Brace said he was offended when he drove by and saw the Black Lives Matter banner, though he doesn’t think it was malicious in intent – “more misguided,” he said. Despite the fact that the Black Lives Matter website doesn’t advocate violence toward police officers, its members do, he said.
“It might have started out as one thing, but it’s evolved into something totally different,” he said, “an anti-authoritative group ... with a violent rhetoric. And that’s the part that worries me.”
Brace is a retired law enforcement and corrections officer who moved with his family to Peterborough in March 2015 for the schools and rich community life.
“To hang that banner in Peterborough sends the wrong message, especially if somebody’s visiting. They might think there’s a problem with the police department,” he said, noting local police do a wonderful job.
Brace by no means supports the theft of the banner, though, saying the church has every right to hang it. “It’s a democracy,” he said.
He’s also in agreement that the high incarceration rates among minorities should be addressed. But the issue of inequality isn’t just a police problem, he said. “They should be angry with politicians,” Brace said.
Peterborough Unitarian Universalist church member Ray Dodge, of Peterborough, said that while there may be a perception that the Black Lives Matter movement is anti-police, that’s not what it’s about.
“It’s concerned with the unfair treatment of blacks,” Dodge said, which, historically, was institutionalized, particularly in the South. “The police were used to repress people.” It’s something we should be talking about, he added.
Dodge encourages people to research for themselves what the Black Lives Matter movement is about, and to not rely solely on brief news clips. “Anybody can go out and grab a Black Lives Matter banner – doesn’t mean they represent the organization,” he said.
The Peterborough banner isn’t going away.
“It will return. There is resolve among parishioners to replace it,” said Schenk, though it will probably be placed where it’s less accessible, like the rainbow flag, which was also stolen several times before it was mounted up high.
Schenk said there’s been positive response from the public to the Black Lives Matter banner in private emails to church members, but a few have asked, “Don’t all lives matter?”
The point is that a segment of the population isn’t given the same value on a daily basis, he said, noting the church is not saying black lives matter more than others do. “People are finishing the sentence in ways that are combative, which is not in the way we intend it at all,” he said.