Lutherville church invites discussion after its Black Lives Matter sign is repeatedly vandalized

A Lutherville church is inviting the community to discuss the meaning behind a sign stating “Black Lives Matter” that members display on congregation's property in the wake of the sign having been stolen or vandalized numerous times in the past year.

Members of Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, in Lutherville, first displayed the sign in October 2016 to show support for the sentiment and the national movement behind it, according to the Rev. Clare Petersberger, the church’s leader.

Since then, nine versions of the sign have been torn and defaced or stolen from the property.

The first sign, which cost the church roughly $250, was torn down and its frame irreparably damaged five days after it was erected last fall. It was hung using three 4-foot-by-2-foot banners, each containing one word of the phrase hung from a PVC pipe frame at the edge of the church's property.

Those signs were put up Oct. 30, 2016 and stolen Nov. 2.

The congregation bought cheaper $8 yard signs to provide a temporary replacement, according to Petersberger, but those signs were also vandalized when on the night of Nov. 8-9, someone covered the word "black" on the temporary signs with white spray paint.

The church has continued to replace the signs since.

Meanwhile, Baltimore County police installed security cameras for six weeks in January and February to catch whomever was stealing and vandalizing the signs but the investigation did not produce a suspect, according to Petersberger.

An active police investigation of the destruction of the church’s property continues, but the department is not releasing the methods currently being used to detect anyone who is defacing property while the investigation remains active, according to police spokesman Cpl. Shawn Vinson.

The church hung its tenth Black Lives Matter sign Oct. 7 and re-dedicated itself to the message during services the following Sunday, Petersberger said.

The church also announced an open invitation to members of the community who would like to learn more about its decision to display the banner. Members will host a discussion on Sunday, Nov. 12 at the church.

“One of the ones taken in February was yellow,” Petersberger said. “It had underneath it, ‘Join us for the Conversation.’ That’s what we’d like to do—invite people to come for a conversation going forward.”

The Black Lives Matter movement began as a hashtag on social media and a black-centered political will and movement building project in 2012 after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, according to the group’s website.

It expanded in 2013 into an organized, chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to “build local power and to intervene when violence is inflicted on black communities by the state and vigilantes.”

Its members and supporters have received criticism for being “anti-police,” but the Unitarian church does not see it that way and has appreciated the support of the Baltimore County Police Department throughout its investigation, Petersberger said.

Anyone interested in discussing the church’s display of the banner can visit the church, at 1710 Dulaney Valley Rd, in Lutherville, from 2 to 4 p.m. Nov. 12.

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