Residents say Nantucket officials suppressed their speech

NANTUCKET, Mass. (AP) — Two Nantucket residents have sued leading town officials alleging they were “muzzled” when they asked why the investigation into racist graffiti at the African Meeting House on the island in 2018 was taking so long.

James Barros and Rose Marie Samuels, who are Black, said in the suit filed last month in Nantucket Superior Court that their free speech rights were violated during public meetings, the Cape Cod Times reported Tuesday.

“Unhappy with the content of Ms. Samuel’s and Mr. Barros’s exercise of their free speech rights criticizing the Nantucket Police Department, the Town Administrator, and the Select Board" the officials “immediately sought to silence their speech through threats, intimidation, or coercion,” the suit says.

Select Board Chair Dawn Hill Holdgate, police Chief William Pittman and Town Administrator Libby Gibson all declined to comment.

Racist and sexually explicit graffiti was spray-painted on the historic African Meeting House in March 2018. The building dates to 1827.

The lawsuit stems from Samuels’ and Barros’ attempts to discuss the graffiti at a meeting in March 2020 when they said they were cut off.

The suit also says their right to access the meeting house without threats or intimidation was violated by the vandal, who has not been caught.