BLM painting event in Allendale Twp. sparks conflict

Ottawa County

ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A group of activists working to have a Civil War statue removed from the Garden of Honor in Allendale Community Park painted a Black Lives Matter sign at the township hall Sunday evening.

The Civil War statue features a Confederate soldier and a Union soldier back to back. In between the two soldiers is a slave child. The statue has been a point on contention for several months in the township.

About a dozen community members arrived with chalk paint to begin transcribing the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the cement. The group also wrote ‘Take it down’.

“I’m hopeful that we will be able to continue to express that we need to find ways to help the community that’s like Allendale, a small, white, rural community, understand what’s happening outside of these township borders,” said Lynnette Keen who helped color the letters. “We wanted to do something that was community building, peaceful and that brought together folks in a very positive way.”

A group painting a Black Lives Matter sign in Allendale Township on Aug. 23, 2020.

Shortly after the activists got started, a group of counter-protesters showed up. Many called the chalk painting vandalism. 

“Black lives matter, brown lives matter, purple, whatever color you are. We all matter. This is not right. All lives matter and they’re just concentrating on one group,” said Brenda Norton who did not agree with the activists’ message.

After some verbal disagreements, the counter-protesters began physically standing on the chalk letters to prevent people from painting. They later wrote over letters and wrote in their own messages with the chalk. Some of the messages read ‘All lives matter’ and others said ‘Trump’.

“It hurts me. They can’t continue to go into these small communities and hurt them. This isn’t good for little kids to come out and see,” Norton said.

Ultimately the counter-protesters, which included several children, took buckets and bottles of water to the chalk sign, erasing two hours’ worth of work. The organizers of the painting event say the event was not meant to be a protest at all. They say it was disappointing to watch the actions of the counter-protesters. 

“I’m frustrated tonight because this was supposed to be a very positive event. It’s an opportunity to bring people together and unfortunately, the small minded, refusal to consider the fact that white privilege is getting in the way of what other people are struggling with, turns it into this,” Keen said as she pointed to counter-protesters and activists arguing.

“We need to help people in this community understand what’s happening outside of this community. That just what we see, and we go, ‘Well this hasn’t happened here, why do we care?’ Because we care about humanity,” Keen said.

Before the message was washed out, organizers say they were hopeful if others in the community saw their message, they would be fueled to learn more about their cause and possibly join.

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