The travails of a Black Lives Matter sign

  • A second sign has joined Nettie Harrington Pangallo's Black Lives Matter sign in Shutesbury. NETTIE HARRINGTON PANGALLO

Published: 9/6/2016 5:55:28 PM

At 2:30 on the afternoon of Aug. 15, I put up a Black Lives Matter sign in front of my home, on the north shore of Lake Wyola in Shutesbury. Believing I was living in a fairly enlightened and respectful neighborhood, and having had amiable experiences with my neighbors in the past, I expected no negative recourse from this.

Rather, it felt empowering to assert my support for the movement in a place that would get some foot traffic, particularly from visitors to the lake during the last days of summer. What actually followed startled me.

At 4:30 that same day, two hours after mounting the sign, I found a neighbor vandalizing it by covering the word “Black” with a handmade sign that said “All.”

I greeted my neighbor, and asked him what he was doing. “Making adjustments” he said with a chuckle. “That’s my property,” I said while smiling, “and it’s not for you to adjust.”

He continued to tape his sign on mine, and with a condescending tone told me that “all lives matter.”

“Of course they do,” I said as I pulled his sign off mine. “And the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t dispute that, but …”

At this point, he cut me off and waved me away as he grumbled loudly and angrily, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree about this.” He turned and headed toward his house.

“That’s fine. And we can still have respect for one another as people,” I said.

He waved me away again, not turning to look back.

He clearly did not want to have a conversation. His mind was made up, and not just about BLM, but about me. Any credibility and respect I had garnered in the past was clearly gone. Because of a sign that he didn’t want to learn about.

I don’t much care about his opinion of me, so I put the conversation out of my mind, but I did watch the sign and so did my family. We now understood that the reaction we got may be less openminded than we thought.

Five days later, on Aug. 20, my husband heard a truck coming down the road and come to a stop in front of the sign. As he casually looked out the window, he saw a young man picking up the sign and putting it in his truck.

“What are you doing?” my husband asked. The young man explained that he was “just talking about this and was about to show it to a friend.”

My husband told him to put it back, and he did. The truck drove around a bit and then parked – you guessed it – at that same neighbor’s house. My husband took a picture of his license plate and left a note to the driver reading that freedom of speech is one of the things that makes our country great and that stealing in response to a disagreement is not acceptable.

For a couple weeks, nothing happened.

Then we came home to our sign stolen.

When we asked our neighbor if he’d seen anything, he and his wife said that they noticed it was missing and contacted their friend at the police department for us. They followed this with many reassurances that they did not take it and that they were “holding people back” and telling people in the neighborhood not to steal it, but that they were surprised it took until now for the sign to disappear.

“It’s offensive, it incites terrorism, and it’s anti-cop,” they said. They also expressed their frustration that I had vandalized their sign – the one they used to cover mine – by taking it off.

That’s right. I vandalized their vandalism of my property. They said that they assumed we would be upset, but didn’t really care. They ended the conversation by letting us know that if a new sign went up, it would probably be stolen as well.

Well, great.

There are so many layers of entitlement and disregard for others here. The misunderstood presumption that “Black Lives Matter” means that no others do – that this must be an either/or arrangement – is troubling at best.

If this false dichotomy of white versus black worth exists in so many minds, then clearly blatant racism is far more prevalent than we’d like to admit. The idea that the Black Lives Matter movement is a threat to the white experience is an absurd admission that white privilege and supremacy exists, all the while refusing to acknowledge it.

And the idea that anyone who voices their support for BLM can have their property vandalized or stolen and that this can be seen as a mere public service announcement from the surrounding community proves that, in some ways, we have not grown more socially just at all in the last several decades.

We have just gotten better at hiding it.

My take on this story is this: I’m glad it’s happened. This is a side of my peaceful Lake Wyola neighborhood that I, a white woman, would never have been privy to if I hadn’t posted that sign. It’s important for us all to look at little more closely at our surrounding communities and acknowledge that, depending on our backgrounds, race, and ethnicities, there are many different ways to experience the same place, the same people.

I feel like I’ve had a lie revealed to me. And for that I’m thankful.

And I’ve purchased several more Black Lives Matter signs. Because they do.

Nettie Harrington Pangallo lives in Shutesbury.

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