Vandalism and fear

Someone committed a remarkably disgusting act of vandalism this week in the Bradford section of Haverhill, Massachusetts. This person stole a statue of the infant Jesus from the Sacred Hearts Church and replaced it with a freshly severed pig’s head. I’m often in Haverhill and have driven past that church hundreds of times. The thought is revolting. (I’m an atheist, if that matters.)

So far people seem to be avoiding a panicked reaction. In some times and places, people would have grabbed the nearest Jew and strung him up, or tried somebody as a witch. Today such incidents are apt to bring out screams of “Terrorism!”, riot police, Bearcats, and lockdown orders. In the “Satanic panic” of the eighties, people would have been claiming this was part of a Satanic conspiracy to bring about death and destruction.

My best guess is that this was the work of a lunatic with hallucinations of commands issued by Satan. It doesn’t seem like the act of any kind of organization. People want someone to blame, though, and demagogues live on spreading fear. I hope that doesn’t happen in this case.

A woman donated a replacement statue and said:

I can’t change the world, but I can change my city. I’m bringing this, and I’m asking everybody to do the same. Make a statement. You don’t have to come here and hold a sign to be destructive. Just come to let everybody who drives by know. Not here. Not my city.

“To be destructive” sounds like either a slip of the tongue or a mistake in reporting. Apart from that, she has it right.

In contrast, in Berlin, New Hampshire, a tiny city by courtesy in the White Mountains, police chief Peter Morency has issued a request for Bearcat armored vehicle; the document reads like the ravings of a fanatic. He claims an “urgent need” because of Berlin’s “critical infrastructures,” claims that “domestic terrorism” is a serious threat to the place, and asserts a need to be able to detect “Alpha, Bata [sic], and Gamma radiation.” He talks about “numerous high-risk warrant services performed by the BGERT [Berlin-Gorham Emergency Response Team] where the threat levels call for an armored vehicle of this type.” Yes, he wants to use an armored vehicle to serve warrants. In saner times, people would be urging him to get a nice long sabbatical in a restful place. It’s scary to think what Morency might have done if he were police chief in Haverhill.

People sometimes do horrible things. We have to respond to them firmly, but at the same time not exaggerate their significance. There are better things to do with life than live it in fear.

Update: There was another church vandalism incident in Haverhill, resulting in the arrest of a woman for scrawling “666” in several places on a church and attacking a detective with a crucifix. The two churches are less than a mile apart. It could be the same person or a copycat, or the cases might be unrelated.

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