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Allen Johnson: A cowardly response to Black Lives Matter signs

Allen Johnson: A cowardly response to Black Lives Matter signs

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It was disheartening, if not surprising, to learn last week that a Greensboro woman has received an anonymous letter for daring to suggest (horror of horrors!) that black lives matter.

Even worse, the letter was typed by a police officer, or so the author says.

We can't know that for sure because the writer is hiding in the shadows, too afraid to own up to his or her opinions.

But still all too willing to lecture strangers with veiled threats composed at a keyboard.

Jenny Erausquin, who is white, posts a sign in her yard, as do a number of people throughout Greensboro, many of them white, professing these core tenets:

"We believe," the sign says in bold letters: "Black Lives Matter." "Women's Rights Are Human Rights."  And "Science is Real," among other articles of faith.

As the News & Record's Jamie Biggs reported, the one-page letter, which arrived in a stamped envelope, took Erausquin to task only for the "Black Lives Matter" line.

"You must be completely oblivious," the author wrote, "to the reality that BLM is a Marxist revolutionary group that wants to overthrow our government."

Marxist. Socialist. Communist. Take your pick. Each label has been used to discredit attempts to address the issue of racial inequality over the years.

The letter goes on to sneer: "You and your yard sign are disgusting."

This, from a person who sends unsigned letters in the mail.

“I think it was intended to be intimidating,” Erausquin told the News & Record. "I find it sad somebody took the time. It's not like they took a scrap sheet of paper out of their glovebox and left a note in my mailbox. They went home, looked me up, typed it out, printed it, addressed the envelope, stamped it and sent it in the U.S. mail."

In perhaps its most disquieting line, the letter is signed: "A police officer who you may someday call, if at night while you are sleeping, intruders break into your home and you are in fear of life."

The letter wrongly suggests that believing that black lives matter means you somehow oppose police. And that you, therefore, must choose one side or the other.

If the author actually is a police officer, in Greensboro, you have to wonder how his or her Black chief and Black colleagues feel about that.

But to be fair, the letter's writer very well may not be an officer. You could proclaim you're the emperor of the known universe in an anonymous letter.

Then again, consider the turmoil in Winston-Salem, where Black firefighters have accused their white peers of an assortment of racist actions, from making nooses in a rope-tying class to using racial slurs and to posting offensive comments on social media.

Our public safety professionals are recruited and hired from the same broader society that is struggling with racial tension under a president who knowingly foments it.

And thus they can represent the best and worst of us.

Meanwhile, another Greensboro woman received a similar letter in the mail for her "Black Lives Matter" sign — in this case purportedly from a Black author.

While the letter's tone is less combative, the thesis is similar: "Dear Neighbor and well-meaning friend, your yard sign is sending two opposing messages!"

The letter goes on to extoll President Trump for all of the wonderful things he has done for Black people.

"I'm a little insulted that they felt a need to educate me," said Barbara Petrou, 84, a retired hospice social worker.

Petrou, who is white, said another neighbor received a similar letter and threw it away. And a third had her "Black Lives Matter" sign stolen.

"She ordered 10 more," Petrou said.

As for her reaction?

"I didn't feel threatened," she said, "but I felt chastised by someone because I don't share their beliefs."

In both cases — the alleged cop and the alleged Black man — the idea of a face-to-face conversation seems to have occurred to neither.

The "We believe" signs, incidentally, were conceived by an interracial couple in Portland, Ore.,  Jameesa and Bryan Oakley. Their product line has an unmistakable point of view: Black Lives Matter signs and bumper stickers, as well as signs that read "Hate has no home here" and "No matter where you are from, we're glad you're our neighbor," in Spanish, English and Arabic.

Most of the messaging is apolitical, and hardly offensive — unless you disagree that "White Supremacy is Terrorism."

Petrou says she doubts a neighbor actually sent the letter, though a Black neighbor did ask about her sign, more out of curiosity at burgeoning white wokeness in unlikely places.

And Petrou's yard sign remains as firmly planted as her resolve.

"They surely know," she said, "that they're not going to change my mind with a letter."

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