Black Lives Matter banner outside of Sebastopol library burned

By Elsa Cavazos, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, January 14, 2022

On Jan. 3, Sebastopol police received a report that a banner outside the Sebastopol Regional Library as part of the library's civic engagement wall was taken down and burned.

A Black Lives Matter banner exhibited as part of a civic engagement display outside the Sebastopol Regional Library was found cut down and burned earlier this month. Library representatives and police are unsure of who vandalized the display but are taking the action seriously.

The banner was part of a display placed on one of the exterior buildings of the library — other signs read “Black Lives Matter,” “End Racism” and “We All Belong Here.”

Ray Holley, public information officer and communications manager for Sonoma County Library, said the banner was created as the Black Lives Matter movement began to gain more recognition, especially in Sebastopol. This is not the first time a representation of the movement has been vandalized in the city. In the summer of 2020 a mural was defaced after being created downtown. This also isn’t the first incident involving an item put up on the library’s civic engagement wall.

“Sometime last year one disappeared. Then this larger one went up. Library staff not very long ago, in the last couple months, came in one day and the banner had been cut, you know, the rope holding up had been cut, and the (banner) was on the ground. We don’t have information about what that means,” Holley said.

Sebastopol Police Chief Kevin Kilgore said on Jan. 3 at approximately 10:05 a.m. the Sebastopol Police Department received a report of a possible arson that occurred at the Sebastopol library located at 7140 Bodega Avenue between then and Dec. 31. Officers responded to the location and found one Black Lives Matter sign burned.

“The only sign that was burned was part of a larger art display, which displayed other Black Lives Matter similar signs and was located on the exterior wall of the building. There are no leads or suspects at this time. This investigation is ongoing,” Kilgore said.

“We don’t know if this was something that was directed specifically at that sign, but I think that it is important to note that this was part of a larger Black Lives Matter and similar type art display, but only one sign was burned,” he said.

For Rachel Ambrose, a social science teacher at West County High School who works with teenagers who created some of the displays, this is a reminder of the prevalence of racism.

“This is not just an act of vandalism,” she said. “This is a stark reminder of the prevalence of racism even in a community like Sebastopol, that has a reputation for being a bastion of liberalism and progressivism. Although we cannot prevent events like this from happening, we can choose how we will respond and what we value as a community.”

For Holley, creating a space for the community was a no-brainer because of how active Sebastopol was following George Floyd’s murder — protests, marches and a vigil were held in the city which showed people supported the movement.

“The library is really connected to the community. Especially the teens in Sebastopol, they’re connected to the library,” Holley said.

Because of the connection the library has with local teenagers, it created a civic engagement wall to create a space where local teens could display their work and express themselves.

Holley stated he is unaware if the act of vandalism was done as a protest against the message or a prank, “I think it’s reasonable to believe that the banner did not fly off the wall and burst into flames all by itself. Somebody does this. It’s certainly easy to go directly to a motive and make assumptions about that — and we’re not doing that. Again, it could be pranking. Personally, I don’t think it is. I think it’s a reaction to the message,” Holley said.

He stressed the library staff believes in human rights, equity, diversity and justice and that library staff condemns actions like these.

People with information are asked to contact the Sebastopol Police Department at 707-829-4400 and refer to report number 22-0008.

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