Community forum set in response to '#White Lives Matter' flyers

Flyers with the message,
Flyers with the message, "#White Lives Matter," an apparent response to the #Black Lives Matter hashtag widely used on social media after the deaths of young black men confronted by police, have been tossed on local lawns over the last few days.Contributed photo

A community forum on racial issues is planned Sunday after flyers with the slogan -- "#White Lives Matter" -- were tossed onto local lawns and driveways last week.

The flyers' slogan, an apparent response to the widely used social-media hashtag, #Black Lives Matter, prompted local officials and community activists to denounce the message.

The forum is planned for 4 p.m. Sunday at the Westport Library, Harold Bailey, the chairman of TEAM Westport, a group that tries to promote tolerance and diversity, said Tuesday afternoon.

He also said his group plans to issue a formal statement on the #White Lives Matter flyers, as well as a set of local initiatives, sometime this week.

Officials say they are troubled by the distribution of the flyers in town -- primarily in the Compo Road area -- which unsettled some of those who found them on their doorsteps last week.

"I am deeply concerned and disappointed that statements like this have found their way to Westport homes," First Selectman Jim Marpe said in a statement last Friday. "This kind of racial ugliness has no place anywhere, and certainly not in Westport."

The first selectman added, "I have always been proud to speak of Westport as an open and welcoming community, and I continue to believe that the vast majority of Westporters practice that belief through tolerance, inclusion and everyday civil behavior ... This past year has reminded us that our nation still needs to deal with some serious racial issues, and now we know that Westport is not immune."

The local flyers appear to respond to the #Black Lives Matters hashtag used on social over the last year in the wake of the deaths of black men in confrontations with police in several high-profile incidents.

Marpe asked TEAM Westport "to work with Interfaith Clergy, the Board of Education and the appropriate town agencies, to lead our community's response to these outrageous statements and, more importantly, the behaviors and beliefs that underpin them."

Bailey has been in meetings with the leaders of a number of organizations to prepare a "consolidated response" to the flyer distribution.

"We're not sure why this is being done or who is doing it," he said last week.

At that time, Bailey said that taken on face value, the flyers could be an answer to "Black Lives Matter," which, in addition to being used widely on social media, has been chanted at demonstrations following black men's deaths.

"Black Lives Matter, he said, is "really a statement of a reminder that" some people feel "they are marginalized by society."

Bailey said by turning the flyer's message "completely on its head," it could mean "you don't matter" or "we matter more," but added, "That's not what this town stands for."

He said TEAM Westport strives to incorporate diversity in all institutions in town. "We feel diversity is an attitude," he said.

Similar flyers were distributed to homes in Fairfield last weekend and in Milford last month.

Meanwhile, local police have not received a formal complaint about the flyers so there is no investigation into the matter, Capt. Samuel Arciola, police spokesman, said last week.

"We're aware of the situation," he said at that time, adding that police will be on the lookout for anyone "arbitrarily" tossing flyers on lawns or driveways.

On Tuesday, Arciola said there is "no additional information" on the matter.