BETHESDA - Members of a church here say they have no idea removed part of their sign supporting racial equality.
The sign, “Black Lives Matter,” was found defaced Wednesday afternoon. A member of River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation constructed a wooden frame in order to make sure the sign did not get stolen but a vandal found a different way to make a statement.
“The black part of ‘black lives matter’ was surgically cut out of the sign,” Rita Parks, chairwoman of the racial equality task force said.
Parks said that the church has had problems in previous years with a marriage equality sign getting stolen.
Each time the sign was stolen, the church put up a new sign in its place, Ana Lim, congregational minister for the church said. The sign is located right outside the church, visible from both River Road and Whittier Road, Lim said.
“I was one of the few people who were in disbelief when it happened,” Lim said.
Lim said a county zoning inspector visited the church’s office Monday to investigate because he got an anonymous tip about the sign.
The County allowed the church to keep the sign up for a few weeks without requiring any special permission, Lim said. The church would have to take the sign down by around August 10, Lim said.
The church office received a call Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. from the same zoning inspector to say that the sign had been defaced, Lim said. The man was driving by and called the church when he saw the sign had been vandalized, Lim said.
The man said he could not comment on the matter.
“There are people who don’t agree with our values,” Lim said. “I guess that’s why that happened.”
River Road Unitarian Univeralist is not the only church in the county to put up a sign with the text, Lim said.
Lim said the parish has a history of promoting black rights, perhaps before the church was built in the 1960s. The congregation existed 10 years before the church was built, Lim said.
“As far as I can tell from that history, there has always been advocacy for racial issues,” Lim said.
Delegates from the task force attended a black lives matter even in Raleigh, North Carolina, Lim said. The senior minister and some members of the church attended a march this year in Selma, Ala., Lim said.
The congregation had been talking for several months about putting a sign, Lim said.
“We decided that this was the sign we wanted right by our entry way,” Lim said.
The church took special care to place the sign in accordance with county regulations, Lim said. Lim said she knew the sign was lawfully placed because the church puts up a sign announcing their bazaar in December every year, and the #blacklivesmatter sign was mounted in the approved location.
A member of the parish said she was “very proud” when she saw the sign up.
It was “a heart break to see it destroyed,” the woman said.
Bethesda is predominantly white, but among the church’s members are people who are Latino, Asian and black, Lim said.
“There is a nice mix of other ethnicities (besides white),” Lim said.
Parish members outside the taskforce attend race advocacy events, Parks said.
Lim said the church will not be deterred by the vandalism of the sign.
“The fight is not yet near to being over,” Lim said. “There is still lot of work ahead of us and we just need to continue forging on.”
The damaged sign has been left in place so that media could get footage of it, Parks said. She said the church had received phone calls requesting permission to take photos of the sign.
The church will put up another #blacklivesmatter sign in place of the cut sign by Sunday evening following its service, Parks said.
This sign is the “traveling sign” that the taskforce brings to racial advocacy events, Parks said. Lim ordered a sign with the original black and yellow design which will be mounted next week, Parks said.
The church originally ordered the sign after a member saw one of the sister Unitarian churches had one, Parks said.