Black Lives Matter

Community members Damien Garcia, Maroni Minter and Marlena Fishman raise the “Waterbury Stands With Black Lives Matter” banner on July 25, 2020, in downtown Waterbury.

WATERBURY — In its meeting Monday night, the Waterbury Select Board voted to fly an inclusivity banner and rejected putting up a banner saying the town stands with Black Lives Matter that previously hung along Main Street.

The votes came after a lengthy discussion during which a number of Waterbury residents voiced their opinions, and the select board debated several factors that had been raised in their previous meeting on Oct. 4.

Waterbury previously allowed a Black Lives Matter banner to hang on the banner frame near the municipal offices starting in the summer of 2020 at the request of the Waterbury Area Anti-Racism Coalition, referred to as WAARC. It hung for several months as an exception to the use of the frame for banners announcing community events.

On Oct. 4, WAARC member Don Schneider requested the board allow the banner to return to the frame this fall for 30 days and again for 30 days sometime in early summer 2022. The discussion that followed became heated among residents and select board members regarding whether it was appropriate for either WAARC or the select board to hang the banner bearing the message “Waterbury Stands With Black Lives Matter.”

Select board members in response suggested creating and hanging a new banner containing the recently adopted Declaration of Inclusion for the town of Waterbury. The declaration can be found on the town website’s homepage online at waterburyvt.com. It condemns racism and discrimination, welcomes all and states a commitment to equal treatment to all individuals. The board on Oct. 4 also tabled taking action on the WAARC request that Schneider made.

During Monday’s meeting, select board members debated whether or not to hang the Black Lives Matter banner as some were concerned about the precedent it would set for other groups to hang banners with statements in what is usually a place for event announcements.

However, the voices of Waterbury residents who addressed the board were overwhelmingly in support of hanging the Black Lives Matter banner.

Waterbury resident and 15-year-old Damien Garcia voiced his support of the Black Lives Matter banner, saying he felt welcome and accepted when he would pass by the banner before it was removed. “I don’t want the town of Waterbury to seem like we were just following the trend and forgetting about it when it’s not in the limelight,” he said.

His sentiment was echoed by several others, including Amy Hoskins, who said to the board, “It’s important to have the banner as a reminder that there’s still work to be done.”

Erin Hurley, another resident of Waterbury told the board that by hanging the banner, “This would show that the leaders of our town understand the real importance of creating a home for our children that is inclusive and equitable.”

Some residents at the meeting voiced their opposition to hanging the Black Lives Matter banner as well. Jocelyn DePaolis told the board that, “I do not want to see the Waterbury stands with Black Lives Matter banner flying in our town. I believe it is a political statement, I would rather see something from our inclusivity statement being flown.”

Board Chair Mark Frier said he was in favor of flying the Black Lives Matter banner, saying, “I just think that we as leaders of the community have to stand up for the small percentage of minorities and I believe that this is a great way that we could do that.”

However, other board members expressed reservations. Michael Bard said he was hesitant to put up the Black Lives Matter banner again. He said he supports WAARC’s efforts to call attention to racial justice issues and that he supports the Black Lives Matter movement. But he was unsure of the town board backing the message on the banner. “I do think that what the select board does is we govern the municipality,” he said.

The board then discussed and unanimously voted in favor of flying a new banner that would be made to depict key elements of the Declaration of Inclusion given that the statement in its entirety may be too long for a banner. The board established that it would be made and flown from December until Town Meeting Day in March. The wording of the inclusivity banner is the next step for the board to determine in the coming weeks

After the vote an audience member interrupted the board discussion asking to explain the step the board had just taken. Frier stated: “We will not be hanging that banner for a period of 30 days. We will work on the inclusion banner and that will hang from December until Town Meeting Day.”

Following the decision on the inclusivity banner, Frier made a motion to vote on flying a Black Lives Matter banner — not necessarily the one stating “Waterbury Stands With Black Lives Matter” — for 30 days. Only he and board member Dani Kehlmann voted yes. The motion failed with Bard, Katie Martin and Vice Chair Chris Viens voting no.

Kehlmann suggested that the issue might be something for the board to discuss to put on the ballot for Town Meeting Day to give the community greater input in the decision. Board members suggested discussing this option in greater detail during a future meeting.

Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.

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