A Monkton resident who has had multiple Black Lives Matter signs stolen from his front yard is appealing to the community for support.
John Mejia says the first sign was removed from his yard this fall. Since then, he has been replacing every sign stolen with two new Black Lives Matter signs.
After three instances of theft, Meija now has eight signs in his yard. He also began posting about the issue on Front Porch Forum, an online community forum to share local news, hoping to garner support and have a community conversation.
“We didn’t really think that much about the intrusion and violence involved in people stealing signs off of your property that belong to you, and the greater implication of threat that exists in that action,” says Mejia. “Until this last time, I don’t know what it was about this last time, but it just felt more invasive than the previous two times.”
Mejia is a support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but is not involved with the organization’s leadership.
And he isn’t the only Vermonter to experience theft and controversy over the posting of signs.
The Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburg — an 18th century farmstead with exhibits about its history as an Underground Railroad shelter — has also had at least 10 signs stolen from its property.
In response to thefts of Black Lives Matter signs at Sterling College, the school's president has pledged to continue to replace lawn signs there.
“There have been incidences of signs being stolen from across the nation," says Ebony Nyoni, President and co-founder of Black Lives Matter VT. "This is only indicative of the racial climate that presents itself in Vermont as well as the rest of the country."
“This is a time, more than ever, for each one of us as Vermonters to examine ourselves and identify those values that are a part of us and help oppress others, either through activity or inactivity," Nyoni says. "Now is the time for us to grow as a state.”
Mejia says he had posted on Front Porch Forum earlier this fall about the thefts, and he received many private messages of support. But this time he is asking those community members to share their support publicly. And some have.
But one person wrote in with negative comments, saying that the movement promotes violence. While the online commenter did not condone the theft, he described the movement as “filled with hate, racism, promotes violence against those who don't follow their views.”
Part of the reason Mejia wanted to start a conversation in his community, he says, is to correct misperceptions of the Black Lives Matter movement, including the idea that the group condones violence.
Mejia says he was aware that putting up a Black Lives Matter sign in his rural, largely white community could result in negative attention. He says his family hesitated about putting up a sign over the past year, and finally planted the first one this summer:
“[We] didn’t really want to be a target in that way, and then realized that it was more important for us to be visible, than it was, I guess, for us to be safe, if you want to put a fine point on it," Mejia said.
But he adds that there are others for whom the decision to post a Black Lives Matter sign could have even more significant consequences.
“I will say that not being black probably made it easier for me to put up signs in the first place, because the attention and the targeting would have felt, I would think, too personal and dangerous, in an area that’s so overwhelmingly white and so overwhelmingly rural.”
Correction 10:15 a.m. 12/28/2016 an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Sterling College as Craftsbury Academy.