New Castle and state police are investigating a potential hate crime after a Black Lives Matter sign was set on fire early last Thursday morning outside the Chappaqua Friends Meeting House.
The fire, which was reported at 1:48 a.m. on Aug. 6, was the third time within a two-week period that the sign was vandalized or defaced in front of the Meeting House at 420 Quaker Rd., said New Castle Supervisor Ivy Pool. The Chappaqua Fire Department was called to respond and quickly extinguished the fire.
“I was furious about what has happened,” Pool said. “I’m also resolute and undeterred. I’m not afraid to take on the difficult challenges. In fact, I’m grateful for the opportunity to do so.”
The incident was reported to the state’s Hate Crimes Task Force, she said.
New Castle Detective Sgt. Christopher Ragni said Monday morning the department is working on developing a profile of a suspect or suspects, and has increased its surveillance in the area. The three separate incidents represented an escalation, and police believe they are connected, he said.
“We’re definitely watching it. We have the Patrol Division notified and they’re also doing some extra patrols in that area,” Ragni said. “As far as any incidents over the weekend, there was nothing but we’re certainly prepared for it.”
In late July, the first incident was discovered after the word Black was painted over. Then earlier last week, after the sign was repaired or replaced, it was found covered in spray paint.
The police department has also been reviewing video footage from nearby homes, Pool said.
In June, members and attendees of the Chappaqua Friends Meeting placed the banner in front of the structure following the murder of George Floyd, its members wrote in an open letter to the community after the second incident and a couple of days before the fire.
Marion Walsh of the Chappaqua Friends Meeting said after the fire she was profoundly saddened.
“We deplore this act and stand with resolve as allies of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Walsh said.
The Meeting House has a long and rich history in Chappaqua. Since pre-Revolutionary times, the Quakers have fought for racial justice, first opposing slavery in the mid-18th century.
“By challenging the morality of slavery, Friends served in part as a catalyst to the abolition of slavery in post-Revolutionary War New York,” the members’ letter stated. “At the same time, we know the vestiges of slavery and oppression continue to the present. We strive to stand as allies for those who have faced deep oppression and discrimination.”
The Examiner reached out last weekend to Zabeen Mirza and Nichelle Maynard-Elliott, co-chairs of the town’s new Council on Race and Equity (CRE), who released a joint statement. The council is a roughly 115-member town committee that lobbies for people of color, looks to hold the town accountable and initiate conversations among residents.
Mirza and Maynard-Elliott said that last week’s burning of the Black Lives Matter sign wasn’t surprising.
“For many of us, it is the stark reality of life,” the joint statement read. “While our white neighbors express their disgust, anger, and outrage, the CRE has doubled down efforts and has been working overtime to ensure the safety of all community members and to push for greater community education, punitive measures for perpetrators, and as a watchdog for the best interests and protection of our BIPOC community members. While others relish in long statements, social media theater, and performative actions, the CRE and its members have put their physical bodies on the ground and in the line of fire (literally) as we fight for true racial equity in New Castle.”
Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs, co-chair of the Chappaqua Interfaith Council, immediately called the destruction of the sign an act of white supremacy. She said that level of hatred can happen anywhere, and is occurring in Chappaqua.
“If you don’t support Black lives that are being targeted right now, then you are not loving your neighbor,” Jacobs said.
Last week, Pool posted a defiant social media message after the fire.
“Make no mistake, to refute the belief that Black Lives Matter in any way, shape, or form, through words, actions, vandalism, or destruction is a hate crime,” she said. “To the cowards doing this, I say this: However many times you deface and destroy, we will continue to replace, to build it back bigger, better, and more. We will double and triple down in support of our black community members, and all of our BIPOC community members. As a community, and as a town, we are resolved: Black Lives Matter.”
In early June, community members and Horace Greeley High School alumni rallied and took Chappaqua school officials to task following the discovery of a racist TikTok video made by several students in February.
Last week, the Board of Education created the full-time position of director of Equity, Inclusion and Wellness as part of the district’s ongoing effort to be more responsive to students of color.
Authorities are asking anyone with information to contact the New Castle Police Department at 914-238-4422 and/or submit an anonymous tip online at https://local.nixle.com/tip/new-castle-police-department/ or text 888-777 and start the message with TIPNC911.