S. Derry, Jamaica area hit with anti-BLM graffiti

Anti-Black Lives Matter graffiti south of the bridge in S. Londonderry. Photo by Toure Christie.

By Cherise Madigan
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

When South Londonderry residents at the intersection of Winhall Hollow Road and Route 100 awoke on Monday morning, something on their block had changed: fresh spray paint marked the pavement in the center of the road. It read: “BLM [Black Lives Matter] is racist.” Similar graffiti would later be found in Rawsonville and Jamaica.

By that afternoon, the message had been covered by pink spray paint and the following morning all three had been washed away by the Vermont Agency of Transportation. Still, it seems a question has lingered: How should the community respond?

According to multiple sources, the graffiti appeared in the middle of the night. The South Londonderry message was painted in front of an apartment building displaying a number of signs in support of Black Lives Matter.

An apartment house displays multiple pro-racial justice signs. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted.

In Rawsonville,  the STOP sign painted on the roadbed at Routes 100 and 30 was manipulated to read “STOP BLM.” At nearby businesses, signs supporting the Black Lives Matter movement could also be found.

Driving into Jamaica, the “BLM is Racist” message was spray painted on a bridge that had been the site of protests as well as chalk markings supporting BLM in mid-June. According to VT Digger, debate over the chalk messages in Jamaica spurred debate among community members, though the Jamaica Select Board declined to issue a collective statement, leading VTrans to issue a new policy at the end of June allowing some street art to remain in public places.

Shortly after 9 a.m., local musician Jed Hughes posted in the Londonderry Community Forum on Facebook, calling on those responsible for the graffiti to remove it. The next morning, comments on the post neared 100 as community members continued to discuss their knowledge of, and views on, the incident and what would constitute a proper response.

Christine Robinson of Jamaica shot this picture of the Jamaica graffiti in front of the Jamaica House Inn. Photo by Christine Robinson.

While many residents called for a Select Board response on Facebook, none were there to share their views at the body’s regularly scheduled meeting Monday evening, where the Select Board issued a unanimous statement condemning the graffiti and racism in general.

“I’m dismayed that no one bothered to attend our Select Board meeting this evening, where I made the first order of business a condemnation of this act and of racism in general in our community,” wrote Select Board Chair George Mora in a Facebook comment that evening. “Racist intimidation has no place in Londonderry, or anywhere in this country.”

“Our black citizens must be accorded the same respect and expectation of safety as anyone in our community,” Mora continued. “I am deeply ashamed for Londonderry today, and I am truly sorry to those that were the target of this hateful behavior.”

Just two weeks ago, the same board, saying it politicized the board, decided not to support a resolution asked Londonderry to join “cities and towns across the state to condemn the brutal killing of George Floyd . . . and strive for peace, healing and justice for all.” Instead, it will ask voters to vote on the resolution at Town Meeting in March 2021.

State Rep. Kelly Pajala, who is also Town Clerk,  issued her own statement alongside the Select Board’s at Monday night’s meeting.

“I’m pretty angry about the incident that happened,” Pajala said. “Londonderry does not exist in a bubble and this was part of a larger incident in a larger community. We should all be doing everything we can to make everyone in the community feels included and heard.”

Pajala says that she has not received any direct community feedback since the graffiti appeared, despite the response on Facebook. In Jamaica, the only response received by the town thus far has been a call alerting the Select Board to the graffiti’s existence according to Chair Greg Meuleman.

The Honeypie Restaurant in Rawsonville displays a sign supporting Black Lives Matter.

“The only response that we’ve taken really is to alert VTrans because it isn’t within their policy as far as being in the roadway and being permanent,” Meuleman said. “That’s the extent of our response as of now.”

By publication, The Telegraph could not confirm the existence of any investigation into the incident by Vermont State Police. According to Vermont Secretary of Transportation Joe Flynn, VTrans primarily addressed the graffiti due to its impact on roadway safety.

“Our policy is that all signs that negatively affect roadway safety shall be removed regardless of content,” Flynn said. “One of them, as a matter of fact, is right on the stop line, and the others are in a section where traffic is moving. That’s the basic rationale for taking that action.”

Dakota Torrey, 23, who lives in the apartment building overlooking the South Londonderry graffiti, wasn’t aware of it until he read the discussion on the community forum. To him, this incident is a matter of decency.

“It’s disrespectful. The people living in this apartment shouldn’t have to deal with this,” he said. “My brother is raising two girls and trying to teach them that everyone is equal, to treat everyone with respect, and when they see this he has to explain why it’s wrong … it’s not fair and it’s getting out of hand.”

Crystal Corriveau, 45, of Windham, also participated in the forum discussion, encouraging acts of “unity and love,” like a candlelight vigil, rather than outrage.

At the turn from Route 100 onto Route 30, in front of the Honeypie Restaurant, someone painted ‘BLM’ above the STOP marking.

“I am not a supporter of BLM, but I also don’t support demonizing and terrorizing others’ beliefs,” Corriveau said. “This was done to cause great pain in our community. Rather than an angry reaction, I would like to see them show the person or persons who did this terrible thing that, no matter our beliefs, we will weigh on the side of support and love.”

For Pajala, the general timing and specific locations of the incidents are significant.

Communities like Londonderry and Jamaica have experienced smaller reactions to the movement compared to cities like Montpelier, where large protests took place and “Black Lives Matter” was painted on the street leading to the State House. Still, even in small towns, it’s not uncommon to find signs and messages in support of BLM or related causes at homes and public spaces—including those where streets were marked with graffiti early Monday morning.

“This feels like a very targeted message to me, which is just unacceptable,” Pajala said. “It makes me extremely angry that people feel at liberty to be openly bigoted.”

While Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 following the acquittal of community watchman George Zimmerman on second-degree murder charges for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the movement has experienced a resurgence in 2020. Protests large and small have taken place throughout the globe in recent weeks — including ones in nearby Chester and in Ludlow —  prompted by the killings Black Americans at the hands of police and vigilantes including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmad Arbury among others.

According to the organization’s website, Black Lives Matter “is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”

Pajala voted for passage of Bill S.219, relating to the addressing racial bias and excessive use of force by law enforcement, at the end of June. When the legislature reconvenes in August, she says, there are related bills that representatives hope to address. In the meantime, Pajala hopes to see change begin at the community level.

“I feel like the more actual conversation people are able to have with one another the better, and I hope that whatever turmoil we have to go through, we remember that we are all members of this community,” Pajala concluded. “On the other side of the turmoil we have opportunity for positive change and that’s what I hope to be able to participate in.”

 

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About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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