Simmering racial tensions are polarizing one town in New Jersey, with Black Lives Matter lawn signs at the center of the uproar.
Residents of the Bergen County town of Hillsdale said they have been targeted and verbally harassed, and had the signs stolen from outside their homes. The town’s police department has an ongoing criminal investigation into the matter.
Robin Mate said that she’s had her sign stolen twice, and her neighbor’s was taken over the weekend.
“The first evening I put (the sign) in, I woke up the next morning and it was gone,” Mate said. “Then, one by one by one, the signs just kept on getting stolen, over and over and over again.”
The lawn signs have been snatched by a thief or thieves several times over the past few months – ever since Mate organized a sign sale back in June. One man said that his parents were targeted repeatedly, having the sign knocked down, trash thrown on their lawn and verbally harassed as people drive by. Another woman said that she was verbally accosted by an angry man about the sign on her yard.
“He started saying…they were racist comments, to be totally honest,” said Gaby D’Agostino. “He asked me, ‘Why do their lives matter so much when all they do is shoot each other?’ He called me a liberal idiot, told me I was going to burn in hell, all sorts of crazy things came out of his mouth.”
D’Agostino said she filed a police report and was told was given a warning. Another person was charged with a disorderly persons offense for sign stealing. One resident said a family had their home vandalized with spray paint and their signs stolen.
The racial undercurrent has left the Hillsdale community divided, leaving some people “scared to talk.” Many of the residents have formed a civil rights coalition called PV Core, and pressed local officials to form a diversity and inclusion committee – but complained about an apparent lack of response from the town.
“I think there’s a bit of some deep-rooted racism in this town that goes back a long time,” said Karina Downey, who added that some local officials are not willing “address the situation head-on.”
A spokesperson for the Hillsdale mayor said that he had no comment.