The “Covid death scoreboard,” as its been dubbed, has been vandalized five times since it was installed Friday in Northbrook, Illinois, organizers said.
“We’ve had vandalism before when we’ve put up displays, but I was shocked because we’re all in this virus situation together,” Lee Goodman told CNN. “Frankly when we put it up, I didn’t think anyone would pay any attention at all.”
The sign was made to evoke emotion that the United States is leading the world in Covid-19 deaths, but it stirred a different kind of outrage.
Spray paint mostly covered President Trump’s name, which is painted on the bottom of the sign. Goodman said the President’s name was included as an accountability measure for the US government’s role in handling the pandemic.
“There are certain things, like protecting against a worldwide pandemic, that really have to be done at the federal level and there should be leadership. And that’s just been terribly lacking,” Goodman said.
He said he created the sign to remind people to be vigilant about the virus and for people to speak up and hold our leaders accountable to how they’ve handled the pandemic.
Goodman belongs to Peaceful Communities, a social action organization made up of volunteers, which unveiled the sign on Friday. He said the group obtained a 30-day permit from the village to put up the sign in the designated public forum space.
Four police reports have been filed for each of the cases of vandalism, said spokeswoman for the village of Northbrook, Cheryl Fayne-dePersio. Goodman said he filed a fifth police report about the latest incident.
“The defacement of the sign is being investigated,” Fayne-dePersio told CNN. “So far, no one has been charged.”
While the village board of trustees was meeting Tuesday, Goodman said he got a call from police saying that the sign had been vandalized with spray paint.
The community reaction has been mixed, with numerous residents emailing and calling the village’s board of trustees.
During the meeting, Village Board President Sandra Frum read comments from residents.
Some of them took offense that the village allowed a sign with a political message to be displayed. Others were not happy about the ruckus that happened when the sign was unveiled, with people yelling at each other.
“When my 11-year-old son was on a bicycle this past weekend with some friends, he told me there were moms and dads yelling and pushing each other across the street from the train,” local business owner Josh Kaplan wrote in a message to the board that was read at the meeting.
“Why with all the hate and animosity that exists in our world and country today, why would we want to exploit this in downtown Northbrook on a platform our children have to observe every day and time they visit our beloved downtown,” the letter read by Frum said.
Steven Elrod, village attorney for Northbrook, explained in the meeting that the sign was posted in a public forum. The park district owned the site and allowed public displays until 1994, when the village opted for it not to be used as a public forum, he said.
After litigation in federal court, the village of Northbrook designated the site a public forum with certain restrictions.
“When a property is a public forum … then all speech on that property must be treated equally,” Elrod said in the meeting.
The village cannot prevent certain groups from posting their messages, as that would be a violation of free speech, he added.
The stifling of free speech is something that scares Goodman, he said.
Goodman said he worries about the protesters who were screaming at the sign’s site, saying they may deter people from sharing messages in the public forum and otherwise.
“They’re intimidating people and that means other people will not participate in however they may have,” he said. “That’s a real risk to our society.”