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Long IslandCrime

Church’s Black Lives Matter sign removed after defacements

Joanne Hammer, left, president of the Unitarian Universalist

Joanne Hammer, left, president of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Stony Brook, joins members of the racial concerns committee, Janet Hanson, right, and John Lutterbie, as they stand in front of a Black Lives Matter banner. Credit: James Carbone

A Stony Brook church has taken down a Black Lives Matter solidarity banner after it was repeatedly vandalized and a preschool on the property pushed for its removal.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, a 250-member congregation near the Stony Brook University campus, hung the banner under its roadside sign on July 3 to show solidarity with the police reform movement. The church board voted Friday to remove the sign after it drew negative phone calls, emails and altercations, board president Joanne Hammer said Monday.

Nationwide, dozens of Unitarian Universalist congregations have posted similar Black Lives Matter signs. The Stony Brook congregation hung its banner after 92 percent of the congregation voted in support of the sign, said racial concerns committee co-chair Barbara Coley.

The banner was defaced three times and stolen once, officials said. The church filed incident reports with the Suffolk County Police Department, but did not pursue further investigation, police said Monday.

The defacements did not indicate a physical threat, Hammer said, but Imagination Preschool, which shares the building, opposed the banner for both security and philosophical reasons.

“We felt it wasn’t safe,” said Eileen Hummel, owner and director of Imagination Preschool, on Monday. “It was a detriment to our preschool,” which is not affiliated with the church.

The preschool received emails from upset parents, Hummel said, some of whom opposed the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been accused by some people of inciting the killing of police officers nationwide.

At a town-hall meeting with the congregation Friday, the church board’s announcement on its decision to remove the banner met with mixed reaction, Hammer said.

Two sister Long Island churches, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington and Congregation of Central Nassau in Garden City, have experienced similar backlashes after posting Black Lives Matter signs.

The Huntington church called police after someone slashed its sign in June, the Rev. Jude Geiger said. The Suffolk County Police Department’s Hate Crimes Unit is investigating that incident.

The Garden City church’s sign attracted a man who claimed to be a retired police officer and intimidated office staff, said the Rev. Hope Johnson, adding that police were notified but the man was not arrested.

Supporting Black Lives Matter is tied to the church’s principles, which reinforce “inherent worth and dignity of every person,” Johnson said. The church, loosely based in Christianity, emphasizes spiritual growth over set doctrine. Unitarian Universalists marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, she said.

Despite its brief display, Stony Brook’s banner had an impact, Hammer said. “It opened the floodgates going forward,” she said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the position of parents who emailed the Imagination Preschool to oppose the Black Lives Matter banner outside the building.



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