Duckler: Church vandalism didn’t come as a surprise, but it was troubling nonetheless

  • The word “blue” was spray-painted over the phrase “Black Lives Matter” on the sign at the Unitarian Universalist church on Pleasant Street in Concord. Courtesy

Monitor columnist
Published: 6/22/2020 5:14:34 PM

The Rev. Lyn Marshall pulled into the Unitarian Universalist Church last Sunday for her first live-stream sermon since the coronavirus changed the way people worship.

Her focus quickly shifted, from preparing for her message to the congregation to the message spray-painted on the Wayside Pulpit on Pleasant Street.

“Black Lives Matter,” shown in block letters on a marquee, there since June 4, had been pushed to the background, replaced by one big, blue, bold underlined word: “BLUE.” The phrase “Blue Lives Matter” has emerged as a pro-police countermovement to Black Lives Matter.

While upset, Marshall wasn’t as shocked as you might have thought.

“It did not faze me that much,” Marshall said by phone. “I have seen other photos and colleagues have posted defaced items, so we knew when we put it out there that this was possible.”

This passionate national narrative, sometimes heated, pays no attention to the size of the city. Rallies in Concord and other places in the Granite State have been well-attended and loud, held on a regular basis. Now, here comes the vandalism, too, all part of the mix of a society struggling for balance, struggling for answers.

The police were alerted to the crime and met with the Rev. Michael Leuchtenberger, the senior minister at the UUC on Pleasant Street. Leuchtenberger raised his children in Minneapolis 15 years ago, near where George Floyd died after telling police he couldn’t breathe.

Leuchtenberger has had to balance his empathy for African Americans with respect for law and order, no easy task.

“This gives us hope and brings us up close and personal to have this conversation,” Leuchtenberger said.

Meanwhile, Concord Police were in the strange position of investigating a crime committed by someone supposedly on their side, an individual who believes “black lives matter” somehow translates into “cops’ lives don’t.”

“In theory, you would think that is what this is,” said Deputy Chief John Thomas, referring to the pro-cop slogan. “But it’s kind of sad no matter who the person is, whether they support the police or not. It’s vandalism, and it’s wrong either way.”

The vandalism also takes away from the message that protesters want police to hear. A message crystalized last Friday during Juneteenth, honoring the end of slavery in the United States in 1865, at the close of the Civil War, and hoping for a better tomorrow.

That prompted a 14-year-old girl named Adee Cooper – an Ethiopian native who was adopted by a white couple in Dunbarton – to recruit others to walk on Juneteenth to raise money for Black Lives Matter.

The group walked 16 miles, from Cooper’s home to a friend’s home in Hopkinton, on a blazing-hot day. Nearly $1,500 was raised, and they’re not done counting yet.

Cooper had heard about the vandalism and expressed the same disappointment but lack of shock as the church leaders.

“I would not expect that to happen here, but then again I’ve seen it happened before. So it was just another person who thought spraying that was a good idea,” she said.

As one of the young people in this fight, her generation may be the one to make a lasting difference.

“I’m sort of angry almost on how things have been turning out, but I’m glad to make a little bit of change,” Coooper said. “I think this time it will last longer and carry some more weight, and there is more we can tackle and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Leuchtenberger and the congregation have been trying to chip away at that iceberg for years. Leuchtenberger was called to join the church here 10 years ago, and it has been closely allied with Black Lives Matter since the start.

Leuchtenberger said he has been deeply moved watching events unfold in Minneapolis, where he raised his children and lived for seven years, before moving to Chicago in 2006.

Luechtenberger saw the images on TV last month, the daily clips showing protesters and cops fighting for position, both on city streets and in the minds of Americans. He lived near the Target shown in news videos, and he recognized the stores in a nearby mall.

He says white America, including himself, has been conditioned to exhibit racist tendencies. His comments will draw scrutiny.

“It’s rooted in the foundation of our society, violence toward people of color,” Luechtenberger said. “It’s ingrained within our system, and we don’t notice it and see the violence we perpetuate. We feel we’re owed a certain standing in society, and then we are challenged by others who say, ‘We are here too, and we are all supposed to have equal opportunities.’ ”

That’s the goal. In 2011, Marshall and others coordinated a tribute to African refugees whose homes had been spray painted with hateful messages.

That created momentum, which has returned with extra strength this spring. Marshall expressed hope. Skepticism, too. The sign out front of her church, the one she noticed Sunday morning, can be thanked for that.

“We live in a bubble,” Marshall said , “because Concord has embraced these ideas, and Black Lives Matter has been around a long time now. I thought hopefully this had run its course and people would have left it alone.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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