October 23, 2021

Church, youth bureau vandalized

Graffiti dismissive of Black Lives Matter found on parade route

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

A vandal spray-painted “ALM” on the sign of the Unitarian Universalist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., once spoke. Similar graffiti was found at 19 Church St., at Church and Port Watson streets and at the Cortland Youth Bureau. Police could not confirm that “ALM” stands for “all lives matter,” a phrase social scientists says is dismissive of the Black Lives Matter movement and can be considered racist, but note the damage followed the route of a Black Lives Matter demonstration Monday.

Several months after Unitarian Universalist Church officials found a swastika spray-painted on the organization’s doors, they found the letters ALM spray-painted in red on their outdoor sign Tuesday.

But not just there. On the sidewalk outside 19 Church St. At the corner of Church and Port Watson streets. And on the Cortland Youth Bureau on Port Watson.

“It’s pretty disturbing,” said Joaquin Lira, the president of the church’s board of trustees.

The Youth Bureau reported Tuesday that “ALM” had been spray-painted on its building as well, Cortland police Lt. Michael Strangeway said.

Youth Bureau Director John McNerney said he was disheartened to see the graffiti on an about 2-inch-wide by 1-inch-high portion of the building. He said it was promptly removed. He also said anyone with information about who did the vandalism can call Cortland police.

“The Cortland Youth Bureau stands with all people of color along with the practices of diversity, inclusion and equality,” he said. “We strive to listen, to learn, and be courageous, we stand united in support of justice, equal treatment and peace for all.”

Strangeway said the areas were along the route that marchers took Monday during a Black Live Matter and police brutality protest.

He would not comment on whether the two things are related but said “I would assume it’s ‘All Lives Matter.’”

“All lives matter” is a phrase a number of social scientists and Civil Rights supporters say is dismissive of the Black Lives Matter movement and can be considered racist.

The church is the oldest public building in Cortland County, dating back 180 years. It has been a symbol of progressive religious and social thought. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr. are among those who have visited the church, which was completed at Church and Elm streets in July 1839. King, in particular, attended a reception there in 1956 following a speech.

It was also vandalized last November, when a swastika was spray-painted on an exterior door.

Strangeway said police have no suspects in the case.

Lira said he noticed the vandalism at the church, located on Church Street, after going to the church following the Black Lives Matter protest Tuesday at Grace and Holy Spirit Church on Court Street.

Lira said he isn’t sure if it was someone who was doing it out of hatred or kids joking around, but either way, vandalizing property isn’t good.

“Especially churches,” he said. “Churches are trying to help the community.”

He said a lot of people are hurting right now and this isn’t the way to go about things.

“We need a lot of love instead of hate and we need to come together,” he said.