By LESLEE BASSMAN, Four Points News
Grandview Hills resident Tricia Berry has put out school district candidate signs in her front yard during election cycles in the past, but this year marks the first time she has had a political sign intentionally removed.
“Our house is up on a hill so it’s not like (the sign) is on the street for someone to easily come by and grab,” Berry said. “It’s not in the wind where it would blow away. It’s clear someone had come up into the yard and taken it. There wasn’t anything else that was stolen — that was clearly the target.”
Despite replacing the senatorial race sign, Berry said she feels the action was “invasive.”
“Someone was in my yard and took that (sign) and felt they had the right to do that,” she said of the signage supporting Beto O’Rourke. “Would that still happen if there were more Ted Cruz signs around? Probably, which is unfortunate. I just think people need to respect other people’s property, respect the signs and go vote. Vote your opinion but don’t be demeaning or reckless with other people’s property.”
On both sides of the aisle
Stealing or defacing political signs have crossed party lines throughout the Four Points area this election.
Sylvia Pearson, a supporter of Ted Cruz in his U.S. Senate bid for reelection, said she purchased 100 signs touting Cruz after her initial two political signs were stolen from her Twin Creeks front lawn in early September.
Five days before her initial two, $20 signs were stolen, her neighbor ironically told her they did not want to put political signs out “if they were just going to get stolen or vandalized,” she said.
Pearson’s security camera identified the culprit, a neighbor a block over, who now has a criminal case pending against him, she said.
“When (the signs) were stolen, a part of me said, ‘you don’t get to silence me,” Pearson said. “I know my sign probably won’t convince a Beto supporter to vote for Ted Cruz but it makes me smile (to see Cruz signs) because there’s somebody else who has the same thinking as I do.”
She said she feels “a camaraderie” with like-minded Cruz supporters when she passes a sign reinforcing her choice for the state senatorial race.
So, with her 100 signs that were purchased at a discount due to quantity, Pearson said she always has a Ted Cruz sign ready should her neighbors’ signs go missing.
“This is freedom of speech,” Pearson said of posting political signage. “Once you start silencing people, we have dived into a part of society we don’t want to be a part of.”
Even though stealing or defacing political signs is not a violent act, she said “it’s one of those things where it’s wrong on either side (of the political aisle).”
“Out of control”
Every time Tzatzil LeMair passes the intersection of RM 2222 and Loop 360, she said she is frustrated. The site marks the location of a large sign supporting O’Rourke’s campaign and LeMair is the Travis County Democratic Party chairperson for Precinct 233 that encompasses Glenlake, Long Canyon and her neighborhood, Westminster Glen, among other areas in the western part of the county..
“There’s a sign there that gets vandalized every single night,” LeMair said. “It’s one of the large (signs) and someone spray paints, “Trump” on it in red. A few days later, a few Beto supporters post smaller yard signs on top of it. Then it is spray painted “Trump” again. It has been going like that on and on every two days. It’s like a war.”
She said she feels the perpetrator is someone who lives in the neighborhood to be able to access the area so frequently or is a person who commutes, driving by the intersection daily.
Although River Place Homeowners Association President Scott Crosby said he has not fielded any calls regarding political sign vandalism or theft, LeMair said residents in River Place and Glenlake have contacted her to report their O’Rourke signs have been vandalized or stolen in the surrounding area. She said she has replaced about three or four signs in the area during the last two weeks.
“I’ve actually never seen anything like it,” LeMair said, noting she has lived in Four Points for the past 18 years. “This year has been completely out of control.”
She said she believes the cause of the destruction is the political division that exists in the country as well as the River Place/Westminster Glen community today.
“You would think that folks that live in our neighborhood would put their differences aside,” LeMair said. “We all live in this Four Points community. We’re all on the same team. We all live in the same community. We’re neighbors. Let’s just respect each other.”
City of Austin tabulates low numbers of signage crime
From Aug. 1 to Oct. 4, the city of Austin had seven reports regarding servicing signage including two political signs, one yard sign of unknown content and four additional signs of unknown content, said Matilda Sanchez-Vichique, Business Process Specialist, Client Relations & Information Services, Austin 3-1-1. The ZIP code 78703 reported the highest number of service requests at four requests but the requests included 78730 and 78726 ZIP codes, she said.
“As for what residents should do if their sign is stolen or defaced – we recommend that resident call us at 3-1-1 or 512-972-2000,” Sanchez-Vichique said. “Residents can also report this issue on our mobile app and submit the request under ‘Other’.”
Travis County Sheriff’s Office weighs in
Kristen Dark, public information officer for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, said residents who find their political signs are stolen or vandalized can file a report with the agency, allowing staff “to identify areas where the crimes are being committed so that we may increase patrols and be watchful.”
Footage from surveillance cameras, such as Pearson’s, can help the department identify suspects, she said.
“The first line of defense is, as always, good relationships with your neighbors,” Dark said. “Through those relationships, you can keep an eye out for each other. After all, you know your neighborhood best.”