A 23-year-old Arlington man, who wasn't publicly identified by police, allegedly replaced a sign reading "All" over the word "Black" on a banner displayed outside Arlington's First Parish Unitarian Church. The resulting "All Lives Matter" banner was discovered Nov. 27 by a parishioner, who took it down and contacted police. (Arlington Police Department)

Massachusetts man who defaced Black Lives Matter sign gets ‘restorative justice,’ not criminal charges

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(Original article: Conor Berry, MassLive.com, Dec. 3, 2015)

ARLINGTON — Rather than arrest a man for defacing a Black Lives Matter sign displayed at a local church, authorities have come up with a “restorative justice solution,” according to Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan.

The 23-year-old man, who was not publicly identified by police, allegedly replaced a sign reading “All” over the word “Black” on a banner displayed outside Arlington’s First Parish Unitarian Church. The resulting “All Lives Matter” banner was discovered Nov. 27 by a parishioner, who took it down and called police.

A witness told police that a man in a pickup truck pulled up to the church, exited the vehicle, then approached the banner. The witness jotted down the truck’s license plate number and gave it to police. That led authorities to the suspect, who lives in Arlington.

The man admitted to placing a homemade “All” sign over the word “Black,” Ryan said. But instead of charging him with “destruction of a place of worship” – a crime punishable by fines, jail or prison, depending on the severity of the damage – the Police Department decided to consult with church leaders and Communities for Restorative Justice, according to Ryan.

As a result, the officials decided to seek a “community-based” solution, Ryan said, requiring the suspect to make restitution and perform community service to avoid criminal charges.

“This is the perfect case for a restorative justice solution,” the chief said. “The suspect in this case will be required to give back to the community that was wronged by his actions. Ultimately, the goal of restorative justice is to repair the breach between the offender and the community.”

Church leaders agreed with Ryan.

“These kinds of misguided acts call for conversation and learning, not punishment,” said Lori Kenschaft, the clerk of First Parish Unitarian Church. “We look forward to talking with this individual, understanding why he did what he did, and being part of the restorative process.”

“These kinds of misguided acts call for conversation and learning, not punishment,” said Lori Kenschaft, the clerk of First Parish Unitarian Church. “We look forward to talking with this individual, understanding why he did what he did, and being part of the restorative process.”

Communities for Restorative Justice is a nonprofit partnership of community members and police departments offering restorative justice instead of criminal punishment. The group’s goal is to provide crime victims an opportunity to be heard and understood, while giving offenders a chance to own up to their mistakes without facing criminal charges.

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