NORWALK, Conn. — More than a dozen speakers voiced their opinion over a Black Lives Matter sign that was posted and then taken down in July on Rowayton’s “old school fence,” a kind of community bulletin board in town.
Most of the speakers said that they supported having the Black Lives Matter sign on the fence because it sent a message of support to Black residents and community members.
“I’m here because over the past few months, I have heard story after story from my Black neighbors and other community members of color, about what the sign means to them, and I have heard them speak about the racism that they have encountered in Rowayton, and shared that this time gave them a sense of belonging in our community, in some cases for the first time,” Rowayton resident Alison Marcell said. “And for me, those personal stories which I’ve heard at the protests, on social media, and in conversations with my neighbors, those are why the sign is, in my opinion, so important to our community.”
Marcell asked for a way to have a sign either on the fence or “in another visible public location” to send a message that this was what the community stood for.
Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Tammy Langalis said that there would be a “community discussion” around the fence and the sign.
“We are open to having a dialogue with the community, not on a Zoom call, not on this call, but we would like to have the opinion of others,” Langalis said. “So thank you, everybody for your ideas, and we will take them into consideration and we might put this to a vote of the community.”
Langalis said that they were not there to “debate whether Black Lives Matter is a political issue.”
“We the commissioners back in June made a statement supporting Black Lives Matter. And we believe that we are in agreement with the sentiment,” she said.
Others, such as resident Ethelle Shatz, said that sign promoted equality for people of color who had been dealing with racism and its effects ever since slavery.
“I think asserting, supporting, affirming Black Lives Matter is very important because Black lives up until now, and even now, have not mattered in the way that they should,” she said.
Resident Rob Pratt said that he heard from neighbors who were people of color who were grateful for the sign, but didn’t want to raise their voices about it.
“I think it’s important because I’ve heard from some of our neighbors, that this matters to them,” he said. “They’re just afraid to speak up because they just want to keep a low profile and not raise the ire of their neighbors. I think it’s an important thing for us to show that we are welcoming.”
While all of the speakers said they supported messages of equality and anti-racism, a few objected to the specific phrase “Black Lives Matter,” due to some of the messages, statements, and actions of the Black Lives Matter organization.
“That is the logo of that organization that stands for things that I believe a lot of people do not stand for,” resident Myrvet Fouquart said. “What I’m all for, is to voice an anti-racist message. We can put a sign up there that says, ‘We stand with the African, Black, and you know, African American community. We love everyone.’ We could put a sign of two hands holding the planet, we can do any of that. But as far as putting a logo of an organization that is pushing and pulling an agenda that is disseminating this discontent around the U.S. continent, and it’s creating a little bit of chaos. I am against that.”
Resident Chris Dempster said that he agrees with the sentiment of Black Lives Matter and that it was “a really important message to send out,” but he said he had issues with the polarization that he believed the organization of Black Lives Matter has caused.
“But for me, it’s about the message that BLM, the capitalized letters, the proper organization sends, and it sends to me in my opinion, a very polarizing message,” he said. “So I would like to find a better way and a better signage to put up there that sends that sentence.”
Others pushed back stating that the phrase and what it stands for matters more than the organization.
“I think that there’s a lot of polarization right now around Black Lives Matter as an organization,” resident Ivy Wheeler said. “And I just want to remind people that Black Lives Matter is actually a quite decentralized movement and grassroots movement —here happened to be a couple organizations that sort of hit the top of the list when it comes to what their what is associated with Black Lives Matter. But it’s not only that Black Lives Matter global network that you might be familiar with, it’s also predominantly one … movement for Black lives. And they all sort of stand for different things.”
Wheeler said that the movement as a whole was more important than a specific organization.
“And so I just think we’re all due for a little bit of reminder that the global movement in defense of Black lives that surged this summer was out of a need for an acknowledgement of the specificity of the experience of a Black American and Black people in general,” Wheeler said. “And I think a statement of solidarity from Rowayton is really important.”
Resident Priscilla Feral said that stating “Black Lives Matter” means more than just an inconvenience to people who don’t want to see the sign.
“We don’t put our feet on the necks of people and snuff their lives out and say it doesn’t matter,” Feral said. “And that’s the fury I feel that this has become an issue that somebody doesn’t want to see a sign when he gets home from work. And it’s an offense, and it was up for a few weeks. Oh, please. There are some repercussions from this that are political. And those are the statements that have opposed the simple right of Black people not to be treated like chattel and animals to be abused. And I’m proud that the community is addressing this because it’s difficult, and because it really needs to be said.”