Several Wilmette residents who have publicly expressed their support for the Black Lives Matter movement have faced opposition in recent weeks. At least three residents have had Black Lives Matter signs stolen from their front yards, and two others have received what they describe as “provocative” and “unkind” letters in the mail.
Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, an unarmed Black man who died after a white police officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, protests against the country's long history of racial injustice have erupted across the nation.
While the Black Lives Matter movement has attracted a substantial following around the world, many white Americans have responded with hostility. The Village of Wilmette is a relevant example of a community with residents supporting both sides.
This was evident when at a least three Black Lives Matter yard signs were stolen from residents’ property over the past two weeks. For some residents, like Andy Bossov, who has never before had a yard sign stolen, the theft was a surprise. After showcasing his sign for only a few days, Bossov’s Black Lives Matter sign was taken by June 17.
“Given the times, I would have expected more leniency even if someone disagreed,” Bossov said. “But also because of the times, people are more vigilant about things.”
Marilee Cole, who had her sign stolen and also received an “unkind” letter, was less surprised at the “conservative elements” of Wilmette.
Cole and at least one other resident received a scolding letter from an anonymous “neighbor” within the past two weeks. After acknowledging the resident’s “BLM” sign in their front yard, the typed letter accuses residents of “hollow” activism and suggests, in bold letters, other ways to help kids growing up in poverty. The letter, which contains a number of grammatical errors, includes a link to a Chicago Sun Times article on shooting statistics and closes with an unsettling conjecture.
“Of course, it you are just hoping that your north shore house won’t be targeted when the real rioting starts,” the unnamed author wrote. “I guess I can understand that strategy, so go ahead and leave your sign up.”
Just days after receiving the letter, Cole’s sign was gone.
Many residents were outraged to hear of the letter and that signs have been stolen in their community. On Facebook, locals criticized the letter for its racist insinuations that suggested white people could “save” Black communities by “tutoring” them or being a “role model.” Residents also noted the letter’s description of violence perpetrated by “black people on black people,” as a typical argument made by right-wing supporters promoting white supremacy.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, white supremacists frequently manipulate crime statistics to appear as though non-whites are more inclined to commit crimes. However, a 2017 report conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated that many of these myths are misguided, as the rate of white-on-white violent crime is nearly four times that of black-on-white crime.
Cole found the letter both provocative and obnoxious, especially considering the author made these criticisms under the protection of anonymity and failed to understand the greater implications of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s different to try and help two kids than it is to advocate for a nationwide change so that we can have a country with fairness and justice for all,” Cole said. “For me, that’s what Black Lives Matter is advocating for: it’s for systemic, societal change that’s long overdue.”
Editor's Note: Black Lives Matter signs are available from Annette Wallace, a volunteer at the Unitarian Church of Evanston at 847-826-6825 for a $10 donation to cover costs. Leftover proceeds will be contributed to organizations supporting racial justice.