For more than 40 years, Barbara Kujawski has been placing political signs supporting Democrats running for public office in the front yard of her home on Sound Avenue in Mattituck.
Occasionally, one might blow over in the wind. Never had they been damaged or stolen, she said Wednesday.
That all changed this year.
On Wednesday, Ms. Kujawski turned over to police video and photographs captured using a deer camera showing two men in her front yard, one carrying a knife and slashing her Biden-Harris sign. She said she believes the incident took place sometime Monday. She discovered it Tuesday and had the images blown up to more easily identify the suspects.
She installed the camera on the recommendation of a Southold Town police officer who said it was the best way to catch whoever was responsible for the incidents of criminal mischief. Twice earlier this election season she had filed reports notifying officers that her banner had been knocked over along with the deer fencing holding it up.
She’s not alone.
Town police records show at least 12 other criminal mischief complaints have been filed with them since Sept. 19 detailing incidents of stolen or damaged political signs. All 12 signs were in support of the Biden campaign, according to the reports and the individuals who filed them.
On Sept. 25, another resident of Sound Avenue in Mattituck reported finding her Biden sign in the roadway. Two days later, she called police again saying someone had run over her sign and damaged it.
Lynn Summers of Southold, who has been a member of the Southold Town Democratic Committee since 1970, filed a report on Sept. 26 after a large Biden banner erected at the corner of Franklinville and Main roads in Laurel was covered in red spray paint. On Wednesday, she said she was told police were able to pull a thumbprint from the paint.
“I’ve never known, and I’ve been here 53 years, it to be as bad as what we’re seeing this year,” she said of the stolen or damaged signs. “It’s really unnecessary. There’s like this fever.”
She said she heard reports of signs being stolen as early as July, much sooner than in years past.
In August, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, a Republican, and Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, a Democrat, co-authored a letter to The Suffolk Times calling for residents to stop removing political signs.
“The removal of political signs is an act aimed at suppressing free speech, a right which we as Americans cherish, and one protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” they wrote. “Suppression of free speech is unpatriotic and will not be tolerated in our community.”
Ms. Summers applauded the effort of the two elected officials and said she wished local residents had listened to their plea.
Ms. Kujawski said the vandalism is symbolic of the political tensions felt everywhere, even within families.
“This year has been the most contentious,” she said. “Half of my own family is not talking to the other half of the family.