A sign of the times
Theft and destruction of political signs became a frequent occurrence in West Linn during the 2020 election season, and appeared to pick up in the days before Tuesday, Nov. 3.
West Linn police took at least seven calls about theft of political signs on Nov. 2, according to call records.
Five of the calls that came in Nov. 2 were specifically about theft of signs for now president-elect Joe Biden. One person who reported theft of a Biden sign also said their diversity sign was stolen as well. Two other calls reporting theft of signs to police Nov. 2 did not specify which candidate or issue their signs were for.
According to a police report, a man who called WLPD on Sept. 21 reported that his Biden sign was spray painted with an orange "O" with a slash through it.
Police also took a report Oct. 26 from a resident who said people came onto his property to spray paint his sign in support of President Donald Trump. WLPD did not release records on two other cases regarding political signs, as the investigations were ongoing.
Former city councilor Brenda Perry said she fought with sign theft all election season. Though she said the signs on her own property were left alone, the ones she placed on city rights of way on Sundays were often stolen.
The West Linn Community Code, which bans election signs on the right of way, makes an exception for signs of a certain size between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Sundays.
While Perry said supporters of most candidates took advantage of the exception and placed signs in the right of way on Sundays, her signs in support of mayoral candidate Jules Walters were stolen on several occasions. Perry said she also had signs in support of two candidates for council in the right of way, but those were left untouched.
Steve Gass and Ellen Urbani Gass said people came onto their property three times to tear down their Biden banners.
The night of Sept. 14, about two weeks after putting up two signs for Biden along their fence, Steve Gass said both signs were slashed with a knife.
Determined to not let anyone silence them and to catch anyone who may try, the couple fixed and rehung the damaged signs, put up two more banners and placed a camera nearby.
It only took another week before their signs were targeted again, Gass said.
Though the camera happened to not be working that evening, Gass said they learned who tore down their banners when their neighbor admitted to doing so in a text message.
"It's pretty disconcerting to find that a nearby neighbor felt like that was the appropriate thing to do, just because they presumably disagreed with us politically," Gass said. "They also sent some pretty ugly texts to Ellen in the process. The context of the texts made me think that perhaps there had been some drinking involved and reduced inhibitions."
Again, resolving to not be silenced, Gass rehung the signs along with two more.
Another week or two went by before again, someone came to tear down the signs, according to Gass. This time, however, the camera caught the culprit in action.
Around 2 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, Gass' camera captured a car pull up and a shirtless man, beverage can in hand, get out of the car and tear down the signs.
The man also tore down the Gass' American flag, which was flying above the signs. In the process, Gass said the man pulled down the flagpole, hitting himself in the head.
Gass said he reported all three incidents to the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, though they didn't have much information on who tore their signs the first time, nor did they want to press charges against their neighbor. Gass also said the sheriff's office had been unable to track down the shirtless man.
"If it were a murder case, I suppose they would have tracked this guy down, but it's petty crime. If this is the most important thing they've got to track down, it may be that we're overfunding the sheriff's office," Gass said.
In his mind, acts like tearing down someone else's political signs are a result of the rhetoric and behavior we've seen from national leaders over the past few years.
"It's really unfortunate that we've had so much division and creation of animosity on both sides for the other. I would say that the worst thing Donald Trump did for us as president is to make us more like him," Gass said. "He led us down a path of becoming more tribal and divisive and I think that's been reflected in people's willingness to attack, in a small way, someone else's right to speak their mind."