By JIM McKEEVER
Weeks after several other Black Lives Matter signs on a fence in my village had been ripped down, one remained — “No Freedom Till We’re Equal.” Its creator had taken some care with it, using different paints, tape and plastic ties to attach the sturdy foam board to the fence.
Its message is clear and positive. Some may see it as a threat, but I don’t. And it is not a retort like “All Lives Matter,” which is so often hurled at Black Lives Matter activists. “All Lives Matter” entirely misses the point. Of course all lives matter; “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t say “more than yours” after it.
When I drove by the fence these past few weeks, as thousands do every day, I looked at the sign and saw hope — the hope inherent in the message, but also in the fact that the sign remained unscathed.
That’s when a pro-police passerby felt the need to superimpose his or her views and block the original message from view.
My first reaction was anger. Then frustration.
The vandalism is a perfect example of our country’s seeming inability to heal itself.
Why not place the pro-police sign next to the original, instead of gluing every inch of the paper to the sign underneath? Does your act of censorship help bring people together in any way? Do you even want to bring people together?
If your goal was to convince people to value the lives of police officers, it failed. If anything, it likely validates the anger felt by everyone who was appalled by the video of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer (to name just one incident).
No, I’m not anti-police. I know and have encountered a lot of good cops. I taught a couple of them as high school students in the ’80s, and had one as a neighbor for years. A high-ranking member of the New York State Police is the godfather of one of my sons.
Are there people who have no business being cops? Yes, as is the case in all professions. But with law enforcement, the stakes are obviously higher. And it’s not just a few “bad apples.” There are way too many bad actors and silent enablers backed by powerful unions that protect their own, no matter what. Think of how many Derek Chauvins were on the street using their guns and badges (and knees) to exorcise their demons before the advent of cell phone videos. And it hasn’t stopped.
Ideally, there would be conversations among people who have different views on this and other issues that cause so much anger and divisiveness. But we have a long way to go.
To the person who vandalized the “No Freedom Till We’re Equal” sign, I hope your view is more nuanced, that you have an understanding of the systemic racism this country was built on, an awareness of centuries of oppression and violence based on skin color alone.
You and I likely will never have that conversation.
But I am curious about something — did you vandalize the sign in broad daylight? Or did you sneak up to it under cover of darkness?
I ask because I have a “Black Lives Matter” sign in my front yard, where I often sit in the evenings, hoping passersby will stop and talk — even if they don’t share my views.
The reality, however, is that a neighbor had her “Black Lives Matter” sign stolen from her yard a few weeks ago. And earlier this summer an angry driver spewed loud profanity about my sign as he drove past my house.
Until we’re equal I’ll keep the sign on my lawn. But until we can have rational conversations without hostility, I’ll continue to take it inside the house at night.
Jim McKeever is a co-founder of Sense of Decency. He is an independent journalist and advocate.