Marches for Social Justice, Racist Graffiti, Stamp Their Mark on Small Town Groton.
by Robert Stewart
The cries for social justice shouted by hundreds of thousands of marchers and protesters around the country has found a voice in Groton during this month and that voice for change has also sprouted a push-back message of racist thought that lies at the very root of the civil unrest occurring in cities and towns during the past month.
Groton Police were called to the Country Club last weekend after someone discovered that a shed next to the tennis courts had been spray painted with an ugly, well-recognized epithet referring to Black americans.
Other instances of spray painted graffiti were found at different locations in town. While some of that graffiti did not carry racist words or messages, police determined that the green paint used in all cases was the same kind of paint.
In a press release, Groton Police announced they would investigate the graffiti and vandalism as a hate crime. Police believe that the graffiti and vandalism occurred late Saturday night and early Sunday morning on June 20 and 21. Police were at the scene on Sunday, June 21 and investigators took samples of paint and scoured the area for any clues. The investigation is ongoing and there were no updates to report at press time.
To the casual observer, the graffiti incident occurred amid several symbolic dates and events. The racist language painted on the shed came two weeks after a peaceful march led by young people wound its way through the center of town.
The march drew more than 300 people and most participants were carrying signs with the message “Black Lives Matter.” The graffiti also occurred on the day following the celebration of Juneteenth – which is June 19 and an unofficial recognition to the end of slavery in the United States.
The racist vandalism also occurred on the day that President Trump defied public health officials and held a political rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
While there is no way to determine if these acts of graffiti and vandalism were deliberate or planned to occur around these events, it does provide context to the social environment in which it happened. The incidents drew a sharp response from town officials and community leaders.
Groton’s Select Board put out a statement expressing disappointment in the graffiti.
The Board’s statement reads, “While this does not represent our community as a whole, it is painful evidence of the work we need to do as a community.”
Selectman Josh Degen added to this sentiment when he expressed disappointment that something like this could happen in Groton. “I’m really angry about this,” he said. “I’m ashamed of our community.”
Degen went further in his comments when he said incidents like what happened in Groton have been commonplace around the country under the leadership of President Trump. Such a climate of hate, Degen said, “... has enabled folks to think that actions like this are OK.”
Groton’s Interfaith Council, which includes members of all faiths in town and surrounding areas, condemned the racist graffiti. In a formal statement the Interfaith Council said, “In no uncertain terms the Groton Interfaith Council condemns these anti-Black and anti-Semitic acts . . . We feel we must caution against a growing culture of intolerance and bigotry that has infected our political culture. Religious, political, governmental and cultural leaders must be agents and good models of social civility upholding the dignity and rights of all peoples to live in peace.”
The Rev. Elea Kemler, minister at First Parish Church of Groton, said she was also saddened by the racist graffiti at the country club. Kemler also noted that the incident occurred shortly after the peaceful, protest march by young people on June 7. Kemler stated, “...When people speak out forcefully against hatred and oppression of any kind, we can expect a reaction from those who feel challenged or threatened by that stance. I think it is important not to dismiss this as the act of reckless youth or someone with extremist views who is not from Groton...And, while I agree that most people would not go so far as to deface buildings, racist views are everywhere, including here. When we say this person could not be one of us or must be someone in a tiny minority of extremist views, we are denying the experience that people of color have all the time and we are relieving ourselves of the responsibility to respond.”
Selectman Josh Degen wants the town to respond to these racist incidents and said he will propose to the full Select Board the creation of a task force that will address hate in the Groton community. He indicated that the task force would be composed of one member from the Select Board, the Assistant Superintendent of Schools, the Police Chief, a member of the clergy and members of the public. “I want to address this issue through education in the school system,” Degen said.