On June 19th, the town of Winchester, in collaboration with the Network for Social Justice, celebrated the raising of Pride and the Black Lives Matter flags to commemorate Pride month and Juneteenth. On July 3rd, as Americans prepared to celebrate the 244th anniversary of the document upholding “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for its citizens, these two flags were stolen from the flag pole on the Winchester Town Common.
Unfortunately this incident is unremarkable. Massachusetts, like many states around the country, is witnessing a rise in violent hate crimes, vandalism, and graffiti, with the Anti Defamation League reporting 117 incidents of white supremacist propaganda or events and 26 incidents of anti-Semitism already in 2020. When many read these figures, or reflect on what is occurring across the country, the response has often been, ‘terrible, but not in Winchester.’
For many, this town and this community is the exception to the rule, a place and collective set apart. However, the theft of these flags is not a first for us in Winchester, but actually part of a larger pattern of vandalism that has included theft of the same flags from the Winchester Unitarian Society and racist and homophobic graffiti found at McCall Middle School and the Winchester Unitarian Society. We may not feel we are directly impacted by race-based violence and the recent protests, but we are not exempt from their manifestations. To paraphrase one observer, the flags didn’t even make it two weeks.
Across this country we have been experiencing an awakening to the widespread impact of systemic racism–from the overt violence of lynchings and police brutality, to the covert violence caused by limited access to healthcare, social services, and education. We are increasingly aware of how our system has failed people of color, immigrants and those least protected in society, and of how our own actions have made us complicit in this failure.Yet rising up to meet this moment of collective awakening to racism, we are also fighting its rising tide.
When we raised these flags, we declared the spirit in which they were being lifted as representing “Winchester’s commitment to building racial equity” as achievable only by working actively to fight back against all manifestations of hate and everyday racism. We will soon raise new flags over the Common; please join us in ongoing efforts to uphold the spirit behind them.