After signs supporting neofascist, white nationalist group Patriot Front were posted on Oak Bluffs’ Circuit Avenue early this month, Oak Bluffs Select Board Chair Emma Green-Beach and Aquinnah Select Board member Juli Vanderhoop are drafting a letter rebuking bigotry, to be sent to Island agencies for co-signing as a joint statement.
Signatures will be sought from each Vineyard select board, town administrator, police chief, and fire chief.
The signs, posted in Oak Bluffs where Dukes County Avenue and Siloam Avenue meet, were near Black-owned restaurants Biscuits and Eleven Circuit. Oak Bluffs has also long served as a haven and popular summer spot for African Americans.
“We’re working on a letter … to say that we want people to run businesses, that their owners and their customers deserve to be safe, and that we will not tolerate things like this,” Vanderhoop said at a recent Aquinnah Select Board meeting. “We just want to make an Island-wide statement to address these issues.”
Vanderhoop says the letter is currently only a draft, and that it will take time to circulate to Island officials for signatures. She says that the message is currently supported by Aquinnah’s whole select board, town administrator, police sergeant, and fire department chief, all of whom were at Tuesday’s meeting.
The letter’s goal will be to show a unified front. “I’m coming up with a letter with police, fire, and select board that we’ll not stand for nonresponse on written attacks that are racially motivated here — I hope not in Massachusetts — but hopefully not on Martha’s Vineyard,” says Vanderhoop.
Though Vanderhoop does not have in mind a specific action she would have liked to see from officials after the incident, she sees the letter as covering a timely need for an official response.
“Once it was on national news, I was a little shocked that there was no stand taken by any authorities on the Vineyard. I just want to see more action, to be progressive,” she says.
Vanderhoop sees the signage as targeted, and was disturbed personally. “I’m pretty much outraged now about the feeling some people have racially on this Island that they felt they could put something offensive on any minority-owned business, targeted racially,” says Vanderhoop.
At the board meeting, Vanderhoop also inquired about the status of town bylaws against hate. Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison confirmed that his town has none. Vanderhoop has asked other boards about looking into the matter. “These are hard times, you know? We should be prepared for these kinds of attacks, unfortunately,” she says.