The “Black Lives Matter” banner in front of Christ Congregational Church in Silver Spring has been a magnet for vandals. Three times since early 2015, it has been spray-painted, slashed or thrown into Colesville Road.
But for the Rev. Matt Braddock, there was a chilling resonance to the latest instance of vandalism, which appears to have happened overnight Tuesday, at the end of a presidential campaign that laid bare this country’s deep and angry racial divisions.
Braddock found the word “Black” torn away from the banner Wednesday morning. He offers no evidence that the defacement was directly linked to the election of Republican Donald Trump, who made multiple statements that were seen as racially insensitive during the campaign, has a vocal white-supremacist following and was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.
But the pastor says he found the timing deeply disquieting.
“I cannot fully express how upset I was to see that this happened on election night,” Braddock wrote on the church website Thursday. “I experience it as a symbolic validation of the bullying bluster we heard coming from the campaign of the President Elect. It’s as if the election results gave permission for some of his supporters to begin acting badly.”
On Friday, Braddock joined about 100 parishioners, elected officials and clergy to denounce the incident. The speakers said that all lives matter but that the Black Lives Matter movement is important because it represents a new kind of civil rights movement pushing back against police violence and a prison population disproportionately filled with African Americans.
“When we say ‘black lives matter,’ we are focusing on the continuation of racism in lots of ways,” said Rep.-elect Jamie B. Raskin (D), the former Maryland state senator who was elected Tuesday to represent the 8th Congressional District.
Montgomery County Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), who joined Council member Tom Hucker (D-Eastern County) and Board of Education member Jill Ortman-Fouse, a church member, at the microphone, said it was a moment to affirm the county’s identity as a place of peace and tolerance.
“I know a lot of us are not feeling very safe this week,” Leventhal said. “I know a lot of us are trying to understand what happened on Tuesday, and how we can be heard and send that message that in Montgomery County we are going to be a beacon of diversity and inclusion.”
James L. Stowe, director of the county’s Office of Human Rights, called on the crowd to take action and promote unity. “Whomever cut off the word ‘Black’ is still part of this community,” Stowe said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to be one in Montgomery County.”
Neighbors had already restored the missing word to the banner with a patch. Someone added a small heart-shaped sign that said, “Love Beats Hate.”
“We will not tolerate hate in our community,” said the Rev. Jeffrey O. Thames, a Silver Spring activist. “We will not let it go unanswered.”
Christ Congregational is at least the second church in the D.C. region that has endured serial assaults on a “Black Lives Matter” sign. River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda had theirs damaged or stolen three times between July 29 and August 18, 2015.