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‘It’s disheartening’: Students’ BLM banner found burned at Sebastopol Library

A banner reading “Black Lives Still Matter” displayed at the Sebastopol Regional Library was found burned earlier this month and police are investigating it as arson and a possible hate-related incident.

Librarians found the charred banner Jan. 3, lying on the ground.

The 6-foot wide banner was part of the Teen Civic Engagement Wall, created by the library to allow youth to express their feelings on the social justice movement spurred by the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.

Created by a group of West County High School students and local members of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate change movement, the yellow banner was an effort to show solidarity with the BLM movement, said Rachel Ambrose, a social studies teacher at the high school who helped the students get supplies and work with the library.

This was not the first time this happened to one of their banners.

In August 2020, the same group of high school students created a banner which read “Black Lives Matter” surrounded by names of Black people who had been killed in the hands of police.

The first Black Lives Matter sign was created by students from West County High School and the Sunrise Movement. It was displayed in August 2020 outside of the Sebastopol Regional Library and stolen in mid-September 2020. (Rachel Ambrose)
The first Black Lives Matter sign was created by students from West County High School and the Sunrise Movement. It was displayed in August 2020 outside of the Sebastopol Regional Library and stolen in mid-September 2020. (Rachel Ambrose)

That banner was cut down and stolen in mid-September.

“It just disappeared ― and, of course no one saw anything, but you wonder about the motive for something like that,” said Ray Holley, public information officer for the Sonoma County Library.

The students, determined to show resilience, put up the new “Black Lives Still Matter” banner in February 2021.

The second Black Lives Matter banner was hung outside the Sebastopol Regional Library in February 2021. It was found burned on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. (Rachel Ambrose)
The second Black Lives Matter banner was hung outside the Sebastopol Regional Library in February 2021. It was found burned on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. (Rachel Ambrose)

An investigation was launched after librarians found the second banner burned over New Year’s weekend, according to Sebastopol Police Lt. Ron Nelson. So far, there are no witnesses or security camera footage and police have no suspects.

“It’s one thing to have an opposing viewpoint… but to take it a step forward to rip it off the wall and light it on fire is very distressing,” Nelson said. “We encourage freedom of expression, and we encourage display of art.”

“It’s disheartening that someone would take a such a stance against this,” he said.

Daisy Young, 17, is one of the students who helped create the banner that was burned. She said she was “shocked” when she found out it had been destroyed.

“It’s hard to imagine the type of person that would do something like this,” Young said.

The message they sent, she said, felt “violent,” especially toward minorities, and made her feel like her hometown of Sebastopol, which she had always seen as being peaceful, was more divided and less safe.

Her teacher, Ambrose, said it’s especially hard for Black students in Sebastopol and for teenagers who already felt like their voices don’t matter.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

But they will not let it deter them.

Young and the other students, with the help of Ambrose, are already working on another BLM banner to replace the burned one.

“Hate crimes in our community will not be tolerated,” Ambrose said. “You cannot silence members of our community. There will just be more banners to replace them. They will not be deterred by this.”

The investigation is still open and the department encourages anyone with information regarding the crime to call the Sebastopol Police Department at 707-829-4400.

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8511 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @alana_minkler.

Alana Minkler

Breaking news & general assignment reporter, The Press Democrat

The world is filled with stories that inspire compassion, wonder, laughs and even tears. As a Press Democrat reporter covering breaking news, tribes and youth, it’s my goal to give others a voice to share these stories.

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