Family endures racist taunt over ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign

They were doing yard work at their Everett home when a driver yelled ‘Black lives don’t matter.’

EVERETT — Malia and Jeff Zirkle were tending to their yard last weekend when racism bellowed their way.

Shaken by the experience of hearing, “Black lives don’t matter” and “I hope you burn,” they didn’t intend on planting themselves in the thick of pervasive tension between racists and people asking to be given basic human dignity. They shared the 20-second encounter, recorded on their security camera Sept. 19, on social media later the same day initially only with their social media friends. But once they made the video public, it spread far and fast.

“Eventually I realized that this is something that happens, and there are a lot of people who think it doesn’t happen,” said Malia Zirkle, whose father is Black. She describes herself as “half Black.”

Neighbors rallied to the Zirkle family, drawing chalk art on the road near their home in support of them and the “Black Lives Matter” message.

The Zirkles, both 38, have lived in their View Ridge neighborhood house for 12 years. Since April, they have had a “Black Lives Matter” sign in their yard. A neighbor gave it to them, which they displayed in the wake of widely viewed violence against Black people.

“Yes, of course, all lives matter,” Malia Zirkle said. “But right now not all lives are in jeopardy. Black lives are in jeopardy, and that’s who we need to support in our community.”

Passersby who comment on the sign largely have been supportive with an occasional “all lives matter” shouted their way, the Zirkles said.

“Usually we have people who stop by and shout out their windows, ‘We love your sign,’” Malia Zirkle said.

Growing up, she said she saw racism directed toward others, including her dad. But she was largely spared, until recently.

“I had the benefit of not being completely Black,” she said.

The video shows a driver in a SUV roll to a stop in the road. The driver, having seen their “Black Lives Matter” sign in the yard, asks, “Hey, you guys do Girl Scout cookies, right?”

Jeff Zirkle, who is white, answered. “Yeah.”

The driver said, “Well never do it again. You guys suck.”

With a half-hearted laugh, Zirkle answered, “OK.”

The Zirkles told The Daily Herald people often tease them about the cookie calories sold by adorable children, including their daughter.

“Initially I thought he was joking,” Jeff Zirkle said.

Malia Zirkle added, “We were caught off-guard. We thought it was one of those things, ‘Oh, don’t sell me anymore.’ But it turned dark real quick.”

In the video, the driver followed the short response and said, “You know what, guys? I hope you burn. Black lives don’t matter.”

Then he drove away, leaving behind the malice of his message.

Malia Zirkle said she was shaking after hearing the harassment and racism.

“Me being a white male, it’s been eye-opening in a way,” Jeff Zirkle said.

Their 8-year-old daughter was in her room with the window open and heard the exchange. She asked her parents why someone would say that, to which they told her there are people who don’t understand the sign’s message, learned hate and react to it.

“The best that we can do is not allow that type of hate to, I guess, rule us,” Malia Zirkle said.

The Zirkles said they support law enforcement and don’t view the Black Lives Matter message as inherently conflicting. That’s why they also have a sign that reads, “anti-brutality, pro-police.”

She has family members who work or worked in law enforcement, including her dad, a retired Everett Police Department officer, and her sister, a detective.

As protests sprang up across the country and even across Snohomish County from Granite Falls to Mukilteo and places in between, the Zirkles backed those efforts from a distance.

“We support it, but at the same time there’s a fear behind it, especially with our kids,” Malia Zirkle said.

They called Everett police to report the harassment to at least have the encounter on the record. Officers learned who the man is, but the encounter wasn’t technically a threat. The Zirkles declined to pursue or press any charges, and said they also declined an offer by the police officers to ask the man if he’d apologize.

“I don’t think hate has any place in our society,” Jeff Zirkle said.

Girl Scouts of the USA, through its national president, said it stands against racism in a statement earlier this year.

“We want to reiterate to all girls, volunteers, alums, supporters, families, and staff that we do not tolerate racial injustice and we know that Black Lives Matter,” Girl Scouts President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan wrote.

Locally, Girl Scouts of Western Washington published a similar message in support of Black people in June.

“While everyone is important, Black and Brown people have been and continue to be impacted in ways that other communities—especially white people—aren’t,” Girl Scouts of Western Washington CEO Megan Ferland wrote.

People across the country asked to buy Girl Scouts from the Zirkle’s daughter. Sales are over for the year, but even if they were available, the Zirkles said they’d decline because they believe in the skills gained through person-to-person sales.

“Just support your local Girl Scouts,” Malia Zirkle said.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

This story has been corrected to describe Malia Zirkle’s sister as a detective.

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