A “black lives matter” sign has been defaced outside a Bethesda church for the third time in the past month.

The word “black” was ripped from the sign once on July 29 and a second time on Aug. 11. This week, someone swiped the entire nylon sign overnight from the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, leaving only its wooden frame behind. The church discovered the sign was missing Tuesday morning and reported it to Montgomery County police.

Police wouldn’t say Tuesday whether they believe the same person is involved in all three cases. There are no cameras monitoring the area where the sign was located.

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“The investigators have leads they are following,” police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks said.

The church, which is about 80 percent white and has a racial justice task force, immediately replaced the “black lives matter” sign the first two times it was defaced.

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Now, according to the Rev. Louise Green, church leaders are meeting to decide what they want to do next and how they want to address the theft.

The first two times the sign was defaced, the sign was changed to simply read “lives matter.”

The phrase “all lives matter” is viewed by some as a tone-deaf and racist response to “black lives matter” — the rallying cry behind the nationwide movement. Saying all lives matter,” these activists and supporters say, undermines the movement, suggesting the need to specifically highlight police brutality and systematic discrimination against black people is unnecessary.

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