Updated 5:15 pm
A local branch of Rockland Trust recently chose to display a Black Lives Matter sign, then removed it after it received a complaint about it. The manager of the branch said the sign was slated to come down, a decision made as part of a routine rotation of signage, among other reasons, but not due to outside pressure.
Following inquiries by The Times Wednesday, the CEO of the bank, Chris Oddleifson, said the sign will be put back up.
In a June 28 email, Jane Chittick, an Edgartown resident, wrote several Rockland Trust officers, including Oddleifson and branch manager Delos (“Dee”) Lander to complain about a Black Lives Matter sign at the branch. She prefaced her email with quotes she attributed to activist Hawk Newsome:
“‘This country is built upon violence,’ Newsome said, pointing to the American Revolution and modern American diplomacy as examples. ‘We go in and we blow up countries and we replace their leaders with leaders who we like. So for any American to accuse us of being violent, it’s extremely hypocritical.’”
“Originally, the group was peaceful,” Chittick wrote. “No longer. I object to these signs in your window. Are we all supposed to post these signs in our homes to ‘prove’ we are not racist? Really??!! Do you all have these signs in your own front lawn? Why do you have to lecture me if all I want to do is to bank with you? I know how to live in a community among friends and strangers alike.”
Chittick also wrote, “I think ALL lives matter, not just black, and I take offense at this.”
In Oddleleif’s initial response on June 28, he thanked Chittick for her email and wrote that he was a “big fan” of her brother who, like himself, loves sailing.
His next email on June 29 was more expansive.
“My understanding,” he wrote, “or perhaps misunderstanding, from your original email is that you are not interested in my or the Rockland Trust’s opinion on Black Lives Matter. It was out of respect of your desire that I did not address the main message of your email. As this may be a misunderstanding, in a nutshell, the events of the last couple months, and the historical persistent inequality lead me to believe many communities need to be reminded that black lives matter, and diversity throughout organizations (including at Rockland Trust) is critical for long-term organizational sustainability. I am not familiar with signs in the windows, and I have asked the executive responsible for the branches to look into this.”
In an email sent 12 minutes later, Lander indicated the signs had been taken down.
“Jane, I have discussed this matter with Tilma [Johnson] and my managers, and we have decided to remove the signs,” Lander wrote. “We will be using more traditional messaging from our marketing team that demonstrates Rockland’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
In a subsequent email, Chittick thanked “Dee et al” for removing the signs. She went on to write she believed the bank may need to examine its diversity screening in human resources.
“Frankly,” she wrote, “I don’t know why your bank employees weren’t vetted or outed for discriminatory remarks and behavior before, but that is a matter for Rockland to address head-on, and I’m glad you are going to do this.”
She went on to express opinions about Black Lives Matter.
“I don’t know why you think Americans are all racist and that we ‘need to be reminded,’” she wrote, “as you say, that black lives matter? But, that’s your belief and so be it. Anyway: I’m for all people regardless of skin tones and eye differences. However, I AM firmly against anarchy and violence and looting and arson, and … getting sucked into political movements that have morphed into destruction[.]”
Lander told The Times the sign was composed of three pieces of 8.5- by 11-in. paper, and had been put up in a window by branch staff, along with a corporate sign supporting gay pride.
“They both came down,” he said.
Like the pride sign, the Black Lives Matter sign had been up for approximately two weeks, Lander said. One or both had become “faded from sun,” but nevertheless received a lot of compliments from customers.
In general, Lander said, “these type of themed events will run two to four weeks,” and the signage was “due to be changed out anyway.”
He went on to say, “We felt the message had been communicated and it was time for a change.”
He pointed out Rockland Trust has been awarded for diversity matters.
Asked if anyone besides Chittick requested the sign be removed, Lander said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
He also said the decision to remove the Black Lives Matter sign didn’t come from corporate headquarters. “It was a branch decision,” he said.
Lander said it was the first time the branch displayed a Black Lives Matter sign. “We had positive feedback on that display,” he said.
Chittick told The times she supported tolerance, inclusion, and peace, and was against racism. She said she believed Black Lives Matter has morphed into a multitude of groups, some of which are peaceful and some of which are violent. When asked if she thought Black Lives Matter was a movement, she answered by saying it’s not just composed of “only peaceful policy makers and protesters.”
Chittick said she takes offense to Black Lives Matter because she thinks it’s exclusionary.
“I think that’s a racist statement in and of itself. It’s very racist.”
Asked if she thought Rockland Trust removed the signs because of her comments, Chittick replied, “Well, they’re not there, are they?”
In a statement sent on Wednesday, Oddleifson expressed the bank’s supportive position on Black Lives Matter, and noted a new sign is going up.
“Rockland Trust fervently stands with the Black Lives Matter movement messages of justice, fairness, and equality,” he stated. “Decisions regarding signage should be made at the corporate level. The branch was not instructed to take this signage down, and the Rockland Trust marketing team has developed a new sign to replace the damaged sign with the same messaging.”