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Arlington police catch suspect in defacement of ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner

On Thanksgiving, someone covered up the word "black" on First Parish Arlington's Black Lives Matter banner with a much bigger "All." A First Parish member spotted it and removed the "All."
On Thanksgiving, someone covered up the word "black" on First Parish Arlington's Black Lives Matter banner with a much bigger "All." A First Parish member spotted it and removed the "All." (Lori Kenschaft)

A 23-year-old Arlington man who allegedly defaced a “Black Lives Matter” banner outside a Pleasant Street church on Thanksgiving will not face charges, the Arlington Police Department said Thursday.

Instead, he will be required to make restitution to the church and perform community service. His name was not released.

Police said the man was identified after a witness provided the department with information about the man’s truck and its license plate number.

The man, according to police, had placed a sign that read “All” over the word “Black” on the banner outside First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church. He later admitted to doing so when confronted by police.

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After conferring with Communities for Restorative Justice and members of the church, police decided not to charge the man with “destruction of a place of worship.”

“This is the perfect case for a restorative justice solution,” Police Chief Frederick Ryan said in a statement. “The suspect in this case will be required to give back to the community that was wronged by his actions. Ultimately, the goal of restorative justice is to repair the breach between the offender and the community.”

The sign at First Parish has been damaged three times in recent months. In an incident in October, the sign was vandalized with spray paint and its metal frame ripped from the ground, bending it.

On Saturday, vandals struck a third time. Someone reportedly crossed out the word “Black” on the sign and wrote “ALL” above it, using a marker.

It was unclear if the suspect identified by police in the Thanksgiving incident was responsible for the other two episodes. Those acts are still under investigation, according to a police spokesman.

The series of events prompted churches in Arlington to come together last weekend. Three other churches blessed the “Black Lives Matter” sign outside of First Parish and later put up their own signs.

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In a statement, Lori Kenschaft, clerk of First Parish, said these acts “call for conversation and learning, not punishment.”

“We look forward to talking with this individual, understanding why he did what he did, and being part of the restorative process,” she said.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.