Thursday, September 27, 2012
Would it be a hate crime that an Obama sign in McKinney was defaced?
Police are looking for suspects.
MCKINNEY McKinney police officers are asking for the public's help in identifying an individual suspected of defacing a McKinney resident's Obama 2012 political yard sign.
Cassy Zobel called police to her residence off Somerset September 21 after her neighbor noticed the sign had been covered with degrading comments directed toward President Barack Obama and African-Americans. The sign made instant national headlines for its vulgar and racially charged messages.
Two days later, after Zobel had removed the writings and placed her sign back in her yard, she set up a surveillance camera which captured footage of a man driving up in an SUV and stealing the yard sign at about 10 p.m.
This individual is considered a suspect and police are hoping someone with information as to his identity will step forward, Deputy Chief Joe Ellenburg said.
"This is unique in [three] ways, in that it happened at someone's house, it was over a political thing and it was captured on video," Ellenburg said. "Usually if we see racial graffiti on a building or bridge somewhere we're more concerned about getting rid of it than actually catching the person who did it."
When asked if the defacing could be considered a hate crime, Ellenburg said that would be up to prosecutors once an arrest is made.
In a September 24 post on her blog titled, "Blue Chick in a Red Barn," Zobel - a local business owner - vented her frustration, stating she believes the writings to be the work of a woman by the look of the handwriting.
"This is someone who should know better [and who should have learned to spell the religion she professes]," Zobel wrote. "I expect better from Democrats and Republicans. I expect better from Christians and those of all faiths."
Betsy Brody, a political science professor at Collin College, said while she wasn't sure if such sign damages are common occurrences, such violence and destructive behavior certainly runs counter to some of the ideals of American democracy and the way it is meant to work.
"While so much of the rest of the world struggles with violence as a daily fact of political life, we are fortunate to live in a country which has a constitution and a culture that supports the peaceful transfer of power through elections," Brody said. "Putting up a sign in your yard indicating your support of a political candidate is just one part of the democratic process. Our system offers many peaceful and constructive ways to deal with political or policy difference."
While the remarks were distasteful, this is not the first time political signs around town have been defaced, according to representatives for the Collin County Republican Party. During the 2008 election season, the party claimed seeing several McCain/Palin yard signs defaced throughout Plano, but no reports were filed with police.
Collin County Republican Party Chairman Fred Moses said the incident should not be used to reflect the overall racial or political climate in Collin County, using himself and newly appointed District Judge Angela Tucker as examples of how African-Americans are respected throughout the community.
"I think for the most part we have some great people in Collin County and to have this act perpetrated by one individual, we've come so far as a country so it's sad to see there still might be a few bad elements," Moses said. "I think we've done too much good in terms of race relationships. This one bad element shouldn't paint who we are as a county. We really need to look at how far we've come and all the good things that are happening."
Collin County Democratic Party Chairman Shawn Stevens sided with Moses by saying this isolated incident, while extremely disturbing, should not be taken too seriously from a political standpoint.
"Unfortunately, there's still some racism out there even in this day and age," Stevens said. "I'm not totally surprised, but it is very disappointing that this thing still happens nearly 50 years since the passing of the Civil Rights Act."
This type of thing does not happen often, but it happens enough to show that prejudice and racism still exist in Collin County, Stevens said. Crass comments made toward a cardboard cutout of Obama at the Democratic Party's booth at the Plano Balloon Festival last weekend was one example Stevens gave reflecting the political climate in Collin County. About six months ago during the primary election, the party's main office also received a racially charged and hateful voice message, Stevens said.
"I think most Americans believe this is totally unacceptable," he said. "I wouldn't think this is going to become a big political issue, I just think a lot of people are shaking their heads in dismay and saying, 'what were these knuckleheads thinking?'"
If the suspect is caught, Stevens said they could be subjected to a penalty enhancement for the vandalism, making it a hate crime.
"It rarely gets used in Texas but it's on books," Stevens said. "It's defacing of property and it's racially motivated, so I would say it qualifies under the statutes. Racism is definitely out there; hopefully, it's fairly limited but still we still have it in our society, unfortunately."
Anyone with information that could lead to the identification of the suspect is encouraged to contact Detective Steve Roddy at 972-547-2745.
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