The shredding of a Black Lives Matter banner hanging on the front of a downtown Newburyport church overnight Monday is sad and disgusting, but not shocking.
Shocking is watching nine minutes of bystanders’ videos as George Floyd’s life is literally squeezed out of him on a street in Minneapolis almost a year ago.
Most people were shocked when they first saw the most revealing video by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who testified during former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial that she spent many nights apologizing to Floyd for “not doing more” as Chauvin was killing him. People were shocked at the nonchalance shown by Chauvin, his shades perched on his head and one hand in his pocket as he knelt on Floyd’s neck until he died.
Shocking is reading about the white mobs that overran a 35-block neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 31, 1921, murdering Black residents, throwing burning turpentine balls onto the roofs of Black-owned businesses, and torching the Greenwood section of the city – all because of an unproven accusation a Black teenager had tried to assault a 17-year-old white girl.
It’s shocking to realize the Tulsa race massacre, which is approaching its 100th anniversary, was essentially wiped from the history books of Tulsa through a conspiracy of silence. Don’t talk about it or write about it. If anyone brings it up, deny that it ever happened.
Even now, Tulsa officials are struggling with how to acknowledge the 1921 massacre and the uprooting of hundreds of families. It is shocking to acknowledge that the white leaders and residents of a major Oklahoma city buried the truth about a race riot that involved the murder of as many as 300 Black residents and purged Black families and businesses from the community for much of the 20th century.
At age 107, Viola Fletcher is one of the last living survivors of the terror that took place in Tulsa. She spoke last week at a news conference organized by the Justice for Greenwood Foundation, a network of advocates fighting for reparations for survivors and descendants.
“I’m still aware of seeing people shooting and running and being killed ... and seeing smoke and airplanes flying and a messenger going to the neighborhood saying, ‘Let’s get all the Black people to leave town,’ because they were being killed by the white people,” Fletcher said.
In this past year of reckoning, the murder of George Floyd was just one of many high-profile killings of Black men and women that brought new awareness of the injustices people of color have faced for centuries. Protests across the country in support of the Black Lives Matter movement put the issue front and center, leading to the eventual conviction of Derek Chauvin for George Floyd’s murder.
Black Lives Matter signs and banners became a common sight, including in this region. And, like the quest for justice and equality by people of color, the signs became focal points of controversy.
So was it hatred or anger against Blacks that drove someone to slash the BLM banner outside the Unitarian Universalist Church in Newburyport? Resentment? Insecurity?
Or was it just knowing the vandalism would upset and anger people who wouldn’t know where to direct that anger?
The Newburyport Human Rights Commission issued a statement condemning “such racist acts of vandalism” as “an affront to those who have directly experienced racial harm as well as all who strive to make Newburyport more welcoming, more just, more inclusive.”Vandalism like this is meant to push people’s buttons and get them angry.
The anonymous vandalism was an act of ignorance that warrants discussion and education, perhaps through the vivid memories of 107-year-old Viola Fletcher in Tulsa, or by highlighting the acts of compassion performed around us every day.
As the Human Rights Commission wrote, this act “will not separate or divide us.
Instead it will remind us to move closer together as we chart a shared course beyond the pandemic to a future that demands us to take better care of our planet and one another.”
A shredded banner isn’t shocking but it reminds us, again, there is so much work to be done.