Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Heights church’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner is stolen, twice

July 12, 2016 By Francesca Norsen Tate Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A closeup of the replacement banner, along with a note asking the public to respect church property. Photo courtesy of First Unitarian Church

Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood with a strong interfaith identity and commitment to justice, experienced its own incidents of racial intolerance when church banners declaring “Black Lives Matter” disappeared.

First Unitarian Church lost both of its “Black Lives Matter” banners in two separate incidents in recent weeks.

A banner that had been dedicated on Sunday, June 19, was reported missing sometime between June 26-28. Then, this past Sunday, July 10, the second banner — which was a replacement — also disappeared.

The alleged theft took place during a turbulent and tragic week when two young black males were killed in confrontations with police in Louisiana and Minnesota, and then five police officers were murdered by a lone sniper in Dallas.

Garnett Losak, First Unitarian Church’s director of congregational life, who was responsible for designing and purchasing the banners, told the Brooklyn Eagle that the first banner was placed and dedicated in a ceremony on Sunday, June 19; the date, also known as Juneteenth, is the oldest known celebration of the official end of slavery.

“The Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2015 General Assembly adopted a resolution to support Black Lives Matter,” said Losak. “We, as a congregation, voted to support that resolution.”

The membership voted at one of the congregational meetings to collect funds and purchase two Black Lives Matter banners. Already aware of vandalism incidents taking place elsewhere and involving banners with this specific message, they purchased the second banner as a backup.

“We are so disappointed by this event. These banners were funded with small donations of as little as $5 or $10 from members of our congregation. For it to be removed from the fence is just sad for the Black Lives Movement and for our congregation,” said Losak.

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The first banner was taken from the church’s Pierrepont Street fence sometime between Sunday, June 26 and Tuesday, June 28. Losak said she had seen it on the fence that Saturday. Meagan Henry, the church’s director of education ministries, reported that the banner was still there on Sunday during worship and meetings she attended that afternoon. But when she returned on Tuesday, June 28, she saw that the banner was missing, along with the bungee cord attaching it to the fence.

After a discussion as to whether to put up the replacement banner, the congregation decided to position it in the same place as the original banner, but using more secure zip ties. “If you removed it, you would have to be deliberate. Zip ties can’t simply be removed; they must be cut. This was done neatly and deliberately,” Losak said.

She also said the police were not called on this matter.

The Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons, First Unitarian’s senior minister, was traveling with her family and was not available for comment. However, she did release a press statement when the first banner was taken.

“In my remarks at the installation of the banner, I said that we shouldn’t have to put up a banner like this. It shouldn’t be necessary to proclaim that black lives matter. But it is. In this society fraught with discrimination and violence against people of color, it is necessary for people of faith to proclaim the obvious. The fact that someone would steal our banner and attempt to silence our voice highlights just how necessary it is.”

Lee Pardee, president of First Unitarian Church’s board of trustees, told the Eagle, “I am very sad that our congregation’s Black Lives Matter banner has been stolen twice in the three weeks since we installed it on Juneteenth, the celebration of the date when the last slaves were freed in 1865.  It is extremely discouraging to learn that there are people in Brooklyn who perceive a banner that lifts up the humanity of a group of Americans who have been treated unjustly for so long as threatening or unpleasant.”

The congregation remains resolute in its mission to respect the worth of every living being. “We are committed to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and continue our anti-racist work,” said Losak.

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