It’s hard to know whether we are living in strange or dangerous times.
While there is a lot of heated debating about key issues facing Americans – race, social justice, police brutality and immigration, to name a few – we are seeing an uptick, even here in Vermont, in the number of incidents of vandalism done under the guise of free speech and political statements.
Last week, there was an incident in which Vermont State Police stated they had identified white supremacist graffiti found at Waterbury Reservoir.
A worker found the graffiti painted on the east side of the dam — a location that has little visibility to the public and is not viewable from the water.
According to troopers: “The graffiti was identified as coming from the hate group Patriot Front and was applied using a stencil, allowing ... the offender to apply the images quickly then leave. There is no video of the site on the dam where the graffiti was applied, and there are no known witnesses or suspects.”
Previously, after a Black Lives Matter mural was painted along a length of State Street in Montpelier, an individual – in full view of surveillance cameras – defaced the mural to state, “Black Lies Matter,” and then proceeded to deface the granite sidewalk leading to the State House. Within that same week, individuals in vehicles as large as loaded tractor trailer trucks squealed tires or braked hard enough to leave large tire marks across the giant mural.
Yesterday, state police announced they were investigating “potential bias-related incidents in Jericho and Underhill in which unknown subjects damaged Black Lives Matter artwork painted on three roads in the communities.”
All three incidents were discovered by a trooper on patrol Monday morning, and involved evidence that vehicles had burned out tires over the artwork. Two of the locations, on Browns Trace and Pleasant Valley roads, had “Black Lives Matter” painted in the roadway. At the third location, on Irish Settlement Road, “Black Trans Lives Matter” was displayed. At the Browns Trace Road location, white and brown paint had been poured on the artwork.
Reports of all of these cases have been sent to the Attorney General’s Office under the Bias Incident Reporting System.
But bold statements are being made elsewhere, as well.
Less than an hour after it was finished this past Saturday afternoon, vandals came for a Black Lives Matter street slogan in Martinez, California.
In broad daylight, with witnesses recording on phones, a woman in flip-flops and a patriotic shirt splattered a can of black paint over the bright yellow “L” in “Black” heaving her paint roller over the letters outside the Contra Costa County courthouse in California. Her companion, a man in a red “Four More Years” shirt from President Trump’s campaign and red “Make America Great Again” hat, told onlookers, “No one wants Black Lives Matter here.”
“What is wrong with you?” someone asked the unidentified vandals from off-camera, in a viral video of the incident also shared by police. “We’re sick of this narrative, that’s what’s wrong,” the man responded. “The narrative of police brutality, the narrative of oppression, the narrative of racism. It’s a lie.” The woman scrubbed away with her black paint roller, looking up to say, “Keep this s- — in f--- — New York. This is not happening in my town.”
The Martinez Police Department is searching for the suspects in this high-profile incident of vandalism targeting. Incidents also have been reported in Cleveland and several other communities nationwide.
Across the nation, consensus is growing about the existence of systemic racism in American policing and other facets of American life, and longtime organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement are trying to extend its momentum beyond the popularization of a phrase.
Activists are sensing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to demand policy changes that once seemed far-fetched, including sharp cuts to police budgets in favor of social programs, and greater accountability for officers who kill residents.
But activists’ demands to “defund” police departments already have become a point of division politically, with some prominent people who have expressed support for the movement saying they do not support what they see as an extreme policy position.
Looking at the massive social media response to the graffiti at Waterbury Reservoir, which accused both the police and this newspaper’s staff of propagating lies and attempting to incite fear and divisiveness among citizens, we are leaning more toward “dangerous” over “strange.”