Middlebury police probe racist incidents

MIDDLEBURY — Police in Middlebury are investigating more incidents of leaving racist messages in public places, or of stealing anti-racist messages.
The latest is a series of posters supporting the “Patriot Front,” a white supremacist group. Citizens found them on posted on a post office box in the Marble Works, on a box behind the National Bank of Middlebury, and on a number of bus stops, some utility poles and the like. 
Police Chief Tom Hanley said he believed most were ripped down without being reported, but he wants people to report such incidents. Not only can police gather data to figure out who is leaving hate-filled messages, but they also share data with a center that tracks hate speech and anti-Semitic activity.
Signs and posters from the Patriot Front have sprung up in different places around Vermont over the past two years. Patriot Front is a spinoff of the “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia two years ago that ended with a counter-protestor killed when a car barreled into a group of people. Patriot Front espouses racism and intolerance in many forms.
Hanley is unequivocal in condemning this and similar incidents.
“Hate speech is not free speech,” he wrote in a community forum in today’s edition.
The Patriot Front posters follow other incidents. Last month someone spray-painted a swastika and “WLM” (White Lives Matter) on the footbridge and other places in downtown. During a Zoom presentation by Middlebury College at a recent selectboard meeting, someone hijacked the software and scrawled racist and hateful graffiti on the slides for all to see.
Police have also noted an uptick in reports of thefts of Black Lives Matter signs from private citizens’ property. 
Hanley said police are still actively investigating these cases. They have images of people who may have been involved in some of the incidents and are trying to identify them.
Police suggest people put some kind of unique marking on one side of their sign and to snap a photo of it. That way if the sign is stolen, police can use the photo to match up any signs that are recovered.
“This won’t help us locate the sign, but if we do find it, especially in someone else’s possession, we can trace it to a specific theft,” Hanley said.
“We are imploring people to report these incidents to us,” Hanley said. “It’s not just the tangible dollar value of a sign, it’s an attack on free speech, it’s an undoing of the cry for justice, and we consider this a hate crime.”

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