DULUTH – The camera at Andy DeLisi’s resort is meant to capture footage of northeastern Minnesota wildlife traipsing by his Gunflint Trail cabins. But on three separate instances this summer, it’s instead snagged film of passersby tampering with the Black Lives Matter sign on the lawn.
The owner of the Big Bear Lodge received standard cardboard-and-wire yard signs supporting the racial justice movement from a friend in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Once those mysteriously disappeared, DeLisi used plywood and spray paint to build a sturdier platform for the message.
“This is something we all should have been rallying around years and years ago,” DeLisi said. “There aren’t a lot of people of color up here. I just think it’s important for this to be brought to everyone’s attention as often as necessary until we see the change we need to see.”
First an out-of-town couple dumped the new sign in a ditch. Then a man in a truck pulled over to throw it out of sight from motorists. Last Wednesday, a pickup veered off the road and into the hearty plywood, which remained standing.
“Sign is fine, not sure about his right bumper though,” DeLisi posted on Facebook with images grabbed by his trail camera.
Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen said his deputies tracked down the pickup driver, who told authorities he was distracted by the scenery and accidentally swerved off the road. The investigation from the sheriff’s office was passed on to the county attorney’s office, which could decide to charge the man with misdemeanor property damage.
Though Cook County has received close to a dozen reports of Black Lives Matter and other political signs being stolen or vandalized this summer, this is one of the few times authorities have been able to pinpoint a suspect.
DeLisi’s camera also helped law enforcement identify the out-of-state couple who first meddled with the sign in July. They drove up to the lodge in a pink Cadillac from Mary Kay, a cosmetics firm that once gave the cars to top earners in its national corps of salespeople. A spokesperson for Mary Kay said the company was “severing ties” with the woman after outraged customers called for action on social media.
“In addition to the Black Lives Matter signs, we’ve also had Trump signs taken. In my 25 years here, I can easily count on one hand how many times we’ve had these calls until now,” Eliasen said. “It’s significantly more.”
The sheriff believes it’s a byproduct of today’s political environment. Even in Cook County, with its population of 5,300 that’s voted blue in the past four presidential elections, Eliasen said locals have increasingly clashed over hot-button issues on social media.
“There’s just a lot of stress and a lot of tension right now,” he said.
Both the sheriff and DeLisi decried the vandalism as violations of the First Amendment.
“Just because you don’t agree with somebody else’s belief, or what’s in their yard or at the end of their driveway, it does not give you the right to go destroy it or take it,” Eliasen said.
DeLisi added that he’s received far more positive feedback than criticism. He said his sign is in part inspired by a Black mentor who “was like a second father” when he was a young private in the Army. He never imagined the gesture would garner so much attention.
“We’re hoping to get the dialogue going up here, if nothing else,” DeLisi said. “If you don’t agree with the sentiment, continue on down the road.”