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Arlington church’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner damaged for fifth time

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A “Black Lives Matter” banner was damaged for the fifth time in Arlington.
A “Black Lives Matter” banner was damaged for the fifth time in Arlington.

For the fifth time since the original message was put up in October, a "Black Lives Matter" banner displayed outside the First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington was vandalized over the weekend.

In the latest incident, vandals slashed through the word "Black," leaving a large gash in the sign, according to Lori Kenschaft, the church's clerk.

Kenschaft said church officials believe the sign was damaged sometime between 8 p.m. Friday and 6:30 a.m. Saturday. She said the church does not believe the incident is related to the four prior acts of vandalism, which for the congregation is especially troubling.

"We are partly concerned because it seems like it's been five different people," she said. "It seems like five different people have felt a desire or need to write on our banner, or damage our banner, and in this case, the implied violence of slashing through the word 'Black' is very disturbing to us."

She said each method of destruction has been distinctive.

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Kenschaft has contacted police about the slashed sign, which sits on the church's lawn at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Pleasant Street.

A decision has not been made by church officials, who plan to meet this week, about how to respond to and address the vandalism, or when they will replace it.

"I'm sure we will put up a new banner at some point, but I don't know about the timing," said Kenschaft.

In October, someone vandalized the first "Black Lives Matter" banner outside the church by covering the word "Black" with spray paint. The banner's frame was also bent and broken.

The church hosted a rededication of an identical banner with Arlington residents a few days later. The new sign featured a reinforced frame.

In November, vandals struck again, this time on Thanksgiving. A 23-year-old Arlington man allegedly placed a poster board that read "All," in black electrical tape, over the word "black" on the banner. The suspect was later caught, but not charged for the incident. Instead, he was required to make restitution to the church and perform community service.

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The next day, the sign was again defaced. An unknown party used a marker to cross out the word "black" and write "All" above the phrase.

The fourth incident happened in January. Kenschaft said someone added the words "what about the unborn children" to the banner, something the church felt was "more opportunistic than about the banner itself."

"But we needed to replace it," Kenschaft said.

The vitriol has gone beyond destroying the banners, she said. The church has received angry phone calls, e-mails, and a racist sticker sent to the office by mail in response to the banner's placement on the church's property.

Kenschaft said the church is leaving up the sign that was damaged over the weekend. Typically, they would take it down promptly and replace it.

"This time we are thinking, 'Let's let the community see what's happening here,'" she said. "I think it's important that more and more people affirm that black lives matter and we continue to have these conversations so we can move toward a society where it's not controversial to say that."


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