Brian Woodham

Growing up, I was involved in all kinds of pranks and shenanigans as, I assume, most of us were at some point, even if we would not admit it in polite company. 

Some of us may have rolled their neighbors’ trees or pulled the ole shaving cream in sleeping friends’ hands (or drawing in permanent marker on their heads). Others may have been inspired to take a messier route with flaming bags of poo left on a doorstep. Gross, but fair-enough game for youth.

But still others may have gone too far and started to cross the line into vandalism — ever wake up and find your car shelled with broken eggs or spray paint leaving a message where it shouldn’t?

But what has gone on in Auburn over the past several months isn’t a prank or even vandalism. It’s downright criminal — the stealing of signs. 

It isn’t a new phenomenon, to be sure — The Villager even had its sign stolen some five years ago when we were located on East Magnolia Avenue. But lately, it seems to have become more frequent and, in turns, more troubling.

Recently, a sign bandit or bandits have been stealing signs from around Auburn, whether they be political signs or business signs. 

A couple months ago, someone ganked the nice, hand-crafted sign outside of Well Red, a locally-owned independent bookstore that serves coffee and wine. Video captured multiple bandits dismantling the sign in the dark of night. 

Why anyone would want to steal a sign from a bookstore is beyond me. But surely, the people who did don’t actually read books because those who do usually have cultivated a sense of empathy while searching for personal meaning in the experiences and stories of others.

These people likely got their kicks from stealing and taking a trophy home. 

But last weekend, the stealing of signs took a disturbing and potentially dangerous route, as the social justice banner from the front of the Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Thach Avenue was taken just a week after it was dedicated. 

And it wasn’t the first time. Another bandit(s) stole the previous banner, which was identical to the replacement, in January, two years after it had been dedicated. 

The banner espoused the beliefs of the fellowship with the following statement:

In this congregation, we believe:

Love is Love

Black Lives Matter

Climate Change is Real

No Human Being is Illegal

All Genders Are Whole, Holy & Good

Women Have Agency Over Their Bodies

The repeated stealing of the signs off Thach raises a troubling prospect: that someone or some people are targeting the church for its beliefs, a prospect that the church’s leader, the Rev. Chris Rothbauer, says that they won’t be intimidated by. 

“The goal of this vandalism is to silence us, to make us fear speaking out for our values in the area. Auburn is our home as well, and we believe that the message of the banner is one that many more people than just our congregation hold dear to our hearts,” Rothbauer said.

The AUUF reported the incident to the Auburn Police Division, who did not respond to a request for more information by print deadline, and it’s not clear exactly what the motivation was behind the act of theft. 

But in a time of heightened political tension in the country, a tension that at times turns violent, that a religious congregation might be targeted for their beliefs of inclusivity and love is a troubling development for the Auburn community.

Hopefully, the perpetrator and other sign bandits can be brought to justice and prosecuted, not only to serve justice but to act as a deterrent for others who haven’t matured enough to respect others’ property or beliefs.

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