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OPINION

Three words that shake, rattle, and roil racists

Those who deface Black Lives Matter murals want to obliterate any notion that racism persists.

The new billboard along the Mass Pike near Fenway Park.
The new billboard along the Mass Pike near Fenway Park.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

A California man and woman face a hate crime charge for defacing a Black Lives Matter mural. Four times in one week, a similar mural in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan was vandalized. That same fate befell other artistic renderings of the powerful civil rights mantra in Harlem and Brooklyn.

Two weeks after officials allowed a Black Lives Matter mural, in its now trademark yellow letters, to be painted on a street in Redwood City, Calif., they abruptly removed it, citing “public safety issues.”

Sixteen letters. Three words. And a country struggling to reckon with even a largely symbolic recognition of an unassailable fact — Black lives matter.

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Since the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd two months ago, followed by ongoing protests against systemic racism and police violence, there’s been a nationwide proliferation of Black Lives Matter lawn signs, handmade banners, bumper stickers, and storefront placards.

Even the Boston Red Sox, the last Major League Baseball team to put a Black player on its roster, unveiled a 250-foot Black Lives Matter billboard in the team’s distinctive font near Fenway Park, overlooking the Mass Pike.

Some of this may be sincere. Without a doubt, some of it is performative, and nothing more. That was my reaction when I recently noticed that my former neighbor put up a Black Lives Matter sign. This is the same white woman who called the police because I was parked — legally — in front of her house. She claimed she didn’t recognize my car, though I had lived next door with the same vehicle for 10 years.

Whatever the sentiment behind the signs and murals, they’re triggering racists and Trump supporters. In a nation built on devaluing and endangering Black people, even a suggestion of compassion is more than some thin-skinned bigots can abide.

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Captured on video earlier this month, Nichole Anderson rolled black paint over a Black Lives Matter mural in front of a courthouse in Martinez, Calif. Her “Make America Great Again” hat-wearing companion, David Nelson, told onlookers: “We’re sick of this narrative . . . the narrative of police brutality, the narrative of oppression, the narrative of racism. It’s a lie.”

Officials in Redwood City, Calif., washed away the mural their city had sanctioned after a Trump-supporting local lawyer wanted to paint “MAGA 2020″ on the same stretch of street.

In New York, Bevelyn Beatty and Edmee Chavannes, Black anti-reproductive rights zealots and Trump supporters, shouted “Jesus matters! We will never support Black Lives Matter!” when they were recently arrested for defacing a mural placed in front of Trump Tower to troll the president.

(Oh, and Jesus — not Hollywood’s blue-eyed surfer boy version, but the fiery radical who challenged authority and uplifted the oppressed — would support the Black Lives Matter movement. Just saying.)

“Racism makes you illogical,” Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize this year for her seminal work “The 1619 Project,” said in a segment of CNN’s “United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell.” That illogical behavior plays out every time someone vandalizes a lawn sign or defaces a BLM mural. Their goal isn’t simply to eliminate a symbol; they seek to obliterate any notion that racism or Black disenfranchisement exists.

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As usual, the Trump administration fosters this dangerous mythology. Attorney General William Barr recently called the nationwide reaction to Floyd’s death “extreme.” Trump, who defends monuments to Confederate traitors, tweeted this month that Black Lives Matter is a “symbol of hate.”

In fact, it’s a statement of self-love and psychic healing. It’s a bold proof-of-life declaration in the face of every effort to extinguish our voices and bodies.

Now, as many activists have pointed out, these murals will not defund police departments, or address the deep-rooted issues fueling the disproportionate suffering and death in Black and brown communities during the coronavirus pandemic. They’re not a substitute for desperately needed progressive policies.

Yet they bear witness and testify that American racism was not relegated to history with the 2008 election of Barack Obama — not when even a 14-year-old Black child’s attempted generosity is met with racial slurs from a white motorist, which recently happened in Newburyport after teenager Peter Osazuwa tried to give a doughnut to a stranger.

White America needs every possible reminder of its culpability in pushing this nation to the brink of disaster. Deface every Black Lives Matter mural, and it won’t change the urgency of a movement far bigger and more resilient than a single moment or slogan.

Besides, if politicians, business owners, and ordinary white people are serious about change, they should replace those Black Lives Matter murals and billboards with another three words that acknowledge and proclaim the only path toward eradicating systemic racism and making this nation whole: “End White Supremacy.”

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Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.