The grainy, black and white video shows a camouflage-shaded jeep without doors or windows ramming a political sign. The driver, a young man, backs up out of the frame and then returns to drive his vehicle into the sign again. After several violent crashes, the sign falls and the driver disappears.
Information captured with the video said that the incident occurred at 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 6.
The sign was on the side of a road in Warrenton. It entreated passersby to vote for Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris; it also said “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop killing Black people.” The couple who put up the sign positioned a trail camera near the sign to record any potential vandalism. (The Fauquier Times does not typically identify victims of a crime.)
The Warrenton couple said that vandals several times stole or defaced the Black Lives Matter part of the sign in particular. When a nighttime visitor cut the word “Black” out of the “Black Lives Matter” part of the sign, the couple nicknamed it the “box cutter incident.”
The owners of the sign said that it was damaged about six times between Labor Day and Election Day. Each time the sign was defaced or destroyed, the owners let it stay that way for a few days before repairing it. “We wanted to let the neighbors see it smashed. There is symbolism there,” one of the victims said.
Each time the sign was repaired, the cost was about $700 in materials. “Once we would fix the sign, it would happen again,” said one of the victims. “We thought, ‘Wow, this is a problem …’ When people see something they don’t like, they feel free to trample on our rights.”
She said, “We believe that there is ignorance in our community when it comes to race. … It’s time to reckon with our past and accept accountability for the way our country is.”
In one incident, the couple’s footage showed a man in a striped shirt pulling the sign down; then a man who looked like the same person came back two hours later to look around the area more closely. The victims thought he seemed to be looking for a camera.
On Oct. 4, video showed that three young men – one without a shirt or shoes – pulled down the sign again. One of the victims said that he saw a phone fall out of one of the men’s pockets during the incident. He found it in the mud the next day, in front of the destroyed sign. The screen was broken, the victim said, but he took a guess at the passcode and the phone opened to reveal its alleged owner.
After reinforcing the sign to withstand more abuse and installing better quality cameras, the victims’ video captured six teenagers in two cars again attempting to destroy the sign on Oct. 11. The video shows what appears to be one participant recording the incident with a phone camera.
One of the victims heard noise out by the sign that night and thought, “Oh, we got hit again.”
“That sign is like a lightning rod. It brings hate right here,” said one of the victims. He asked, “How do we know that that video isn’t being used to radicalize people? … We think the Black Lives Matter on the sign sets them off.”
Connor Martin Rowe appeared in court Oct. 19 and was told by General District Court Judge Greg Ashwell to return Nov. 2 for an adjudicatory hearing regarding the Sept. 6 incident. After the Oct. 19 hearing, Rowe approached the couple whose property he allegedly destroyed to ask them if something could be worked out and the case could be dropped. He expressed remorse and said he would pay for the damages. He added that the incident happened in the early morning hours on Labor Day weekend and that he had been intoxicated.
The victims were open to a discussion and contacted the commonwealth’s attorney about it, but did not receive a response before the Nov. 2 hearing. They were more interested in education than punishment, they said.
But Rowe did not show up for his Nov. 2 hearing and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He turned himself in on Nov. 4. He was held on a $1,000 bond and has since been released, said Chad Brubaker of the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, Nov. 12. Rowe is scheduled to appear in court again on Dec. 12.
Two 19-year-olds have been charged with destruction of property for the Oct. 4 crime; the third alleged vandal has not been identified. The other man charged in connection with the incident, Wiley Steven Seville, has an adjudication hearing on the matter scheduled for Nov. 23 in General District Court.
The couple said that their experiences have led them to research Fauquier’s past; they are learning about the lives of Black people here and how inequality has manifested itself. “Did you know that at one point, 40% of Fauquier’s population were slaves?” she asked.
The couple said that the experience hasn’t been all negative. They said that after one incident, people driving by stopped to drag the heavy sign out of the road and prop it up against the hill.
Another time, a neighbor told one of the victims, “I want to let you know, I’m conservative, but I think I’ll vote for Biden. This is wrong.”
The victim shook his head and said, “People who are rational see how crazy this is.”
Reach Robin Earl at email@example.com