Black LIves Matter street markings stir debate in Leverett 


  • One of several “Black Lives Matter” markings stenciled on town roads that were subsequently scribbled on. ​​​​​​SUBMITTED PHOTO


  • The Sawmill River in North Leverett FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

LEVERETT — As the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum in the region following the police killing last month of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a person who has remained anonymous to the community stenciled the expression at numerous intersections throughout Leverett.

For resident Shannon Gamble, the message, in white letters against the asphalt and visible at most stop signs, is symbolic of how there is strong support for promoting justice in Leverett, a town with limited racial diversity.

Paula Green, a longtime peace builder and director of the Hands Across the Hills project, said many in Leverett were delighted by the public display of support for Black Lives Matter.

But within a day of the Black Lives Matter messages appeared, some were crossed out and erased, or altered so that the word “black” was replaced with “all.”

To counter what many viewed as an upsetting act of vandalism, Gamble was among residents who organized a Black Lives Matter rally that drew 200 people of all ages to the field near the Leverett Elementary School on June 14.

There, people were able to listen to two non-white speakers about their experiences and knelt for nearly nine minutes, the time that Floyd’s neck was pinned beneath a Minneapolis police officer’s knee on Memorial Day. The group, joined by representatives from the New England Peace Pagoda, then walked a short distance to the Leverett Library.

Even with the rally, Gamble said there is more to be done and other issues of racism to confront.

Green has offered to run an online dialogue on June 22 that is expected to draw at least 50 people.

Even with support for the Black Lives Matter message in the community, Police Chief Scott Minckler said that the initial painting on the roads is considered vandalism to town property.

The person who put the phrase on the road has been identified and has been spoken to by Minckler and members of the Select Board.

The board decided not to press charges, Minckler said, meaning it is unlikely anyone who damages the markings will be charged.

“There has been discussion about what to do about the roadways, but nothing has been finalized,” Minckler said.

Meanwhile, Minckler and the Leverett Police Department have issued a statement condemning what they described as the actions and inactions of police officers that led to Floyd’s death.

“The Leverett Police Department is committed to continuing to serve the community we are sworn to protect with compassion, empathy and honor,” the statement said.

“Together we can move forward for a common good and we must treat everyone with dignity and respect. We are all united in our stand regarding systematic racism, implicit bias, and police use of force.”