State took BLM signs

This banner on Danny Larsen’s fence went missing, according to Dana Nunes.

Black Lives Matter signs missing from the Beetlebung Corner traffic triangle in Chilmark were taken by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), according to Mass DOT spokesperson Judith Reardon Riley.

“[T]he signs were removed, as they had been placed without authorization within the State Highway Layout,” Reardon Riley emailed. “Highway Division District 5 coordinated with the town to have the signs retrieved and returned to the owner.” 

Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren previously told The Times MassDOT didn’t take the signs, but he reversed that statement on Sept. 3. He offered few other details, except to say those people who lost signs can recover them from MassDOT. Dana Nunes, who initiated daily vigils at the triangle, and who has been joined by comedian Amy Schumer in that effort, said the signs have been returned. She said she learned former Chilmark Police Chief Tim Rich found out the signs were taken by MassDOT.

Rich confirmed that to an extent. He said he suspected MassDOT took them. “I kind of had a feeling,” he said.

Rich said he’d pressed Chilmark selectmen about equal access to the triangle for sign placement. He said he was prompted to do so after seeing a sign he saw as abhorrent.

“What really got me going was when there was a ‘defund’ and ‘disarm’ the police sign,” he said.

“Equal access” and First Amendment rights were what Rich said he was after. He said he was interested in placing his own sign on the triangle. He said he was skeptical it was lawful to place any signs at the triangle, and set out on a “quest to place a sign of my choosing or see the law enforced,” he said.

Rich said the selectmen dragged their heels on the matter, and ultimately referred him to the District 5 permit engineer for MassDOT. He said the board and town counsel Ron Rappaport provided her email to him. Among other things, Rich said, he wrote to the engineer asking if the signage on the triangle was “legally placed.”

Sometime after he reached out to the engineer, the signs were removed. 

When asked why yard sale signs, wedding signs, real estate signs, and various civic event signs routinely placed at the triangle aren’t also routinely removed from the triangle, Reardon Riley wrote, “Structures or obstructions shall not be placed within the State Highway Layout without a written permit from MassDOT.  The requirements for obtaining an access permit may be found in GL c. 81, sec. 21 and 700 CMR 13.  MassDOT is cognizant of the fact that there may be instances where people access MassDOT property without permits. MassDOT will remove any signs or other structures as encountered or as reported if they are determined to be within the State Highway Layout.” 

Further asked where the signs were taken, Reardon Riley wrote, “The BLM signs removed from the intersection of State Road and South Road were taken to a location in Oak Bluffs and have since been returned to the owner.”

Because he would be a logical person of interest, he said, he went to the police station after they were taken and informed Chief Klaren that he did not take them. He went on to tell Chief Klaren who he thought may have taken them, he said.

Rich stressed his issue with signage on the triangle was about lawful placement, First Amendment rights, and equal access, and “not the content of the signs,” at least not the Black Lives Matter signs, he said. “There’s nothing hidden here, and there’s no hidden agenda,” he said.

And while he took no issue with the BLM signs, Rich re-emphasized he found a “defund” and “disarm” the police sign “personally offensive to the extreme” after 35 years of police service.

He was not alone. Nunes, who previously worked for the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office, said she found such a sign at Beetlebung Corner “incendiary,” and wasn’t onboard with it being there.

“Because I have an issue with that phrase, I went and took it down,” Nunes said.

After the triangle BLM signs were taken by MassDOT, Nunes said, nearby property owner Danny Larsen let signs be affixed to his fence. He also hung a BLM banner. On Tuesday, during the daily vigil, Nunes said he turned and noticed the banner was gone.

“Somebody had come in the night and taken down his banner,” Nunes said.