About the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States annulling Roe vs. Wadeactivists have unleashed a wave of attacks on more than 100 pro-life pregnancy centers, churches and non-profit groups across the country.
Now, as Kansas voters head to the polls on August 2 to vote on a pro-life amendment to their state’s constitution, that bitterness and disruption has reached even generally peaceful parts of the country.
In the past month, Joel Richardson, who lives in Overland Park near Kansas City with his wife and five children, said nine “Vote Yes” signs had been vandalized or stolen from his front yard.
“This is the first time I’ve put up a political sign since I’ve lived in Kansas for five years,” he said in a phone interview. “With such an important issue, there is power in taking a public stand. It shows your neighbors who have a similar mindset that they are not alone.
recent reports and social posts confirm that at least dozens of “Vote Yes” signs have been destroyed, spray-painted or stolen. “We have always respected the First Amendment and peaceful protest,” Mackenzie Haddix, spokesperson for the Value Them Both Coalition, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, our supporters have suffered aggressive actions from opponents of the amendment who are clearly misinformed about what it will mean for Kansas.”
Vandals steal signs from Richardson’s yard
In suburban Johnson County, part of the growing Kansas City metropolitan area, Richardson tweeted on June 26 as he put up a “Vote yes” sign. The vandals quickly struck.
But he had two sources for getting more signs if needed: local adoption agency Zoe’s House and Trinity House, a nearby Catholic bookstore. “I am a son of the Reformation,” said Richardson, traveling pastor and author. “But I absolutely celebrate the Roman Catholic Church and the firm stance of its faithful in defending justice for the innocent.”
When the first sign was stolen, the second and third were reinforced with rebar and duct tape. And by signs four and five, Richardson and his family were keeping a closer watch.
“I coated a few panels in lithium grease to make them super slippery,” he said. “They had to work hard to get them out. but they deleted them anyway. More often than not, they just stomped on it to destroy it.
Nextdoor ‘neighbors’ approve of vandalism
Richardson’s frustration grew with this pattern of crime. “I could easily put razor blades on a yard sign. But if they came to my yard, tried to steal my sign and hurt themselves, they could sue me. So the owner is really lost in many ways.
Last week he captured the latest act of vandalism on video.
On July 17, he posted this video on the neighborhood social platform Nextdoor. “I was very polite about it,” he said of his post. He said in part, “If the girls seem familiar to you, at least talk to them. The good news is that the elections will soon be over.
The post generated a few dozen comments, most of them from apparent adults who approved of the property damage. A Nextdoor neighbor wrote, “Well done to them. They defend their rights. Human rights should always be more important than property rights.
However, within 72 hours, Richardson said, a moderator emailed him to take down the video. “Nextdoor staff have removed your content because we have determined it violates our Community Guidelines,” read an email provided by Richardson. “Nextdoor is no place to publicly humiliate your neighbors.” However, he noticed that comments supporting the vandalism remained.
Neighbor caught in the act
Despite the denial, Richardson said he saw the humor in the drama and was not trying to hurt or be cruel to anyone. “As intense and emotional as this issue is, I still believe in having fun with it. Let’s all lighten up a bit. At that time, her 11-year-old son was on the getaway.
In addition to the labels, Richardson now had to coat the panel with something stronger than grease. He found glue traps used to catch spiders. “I went to Amazon and I found out that you can get big rolls of this rat trap glue for cheap.
In the middle of the night, a neighbor takes the bait.
Richardson’s iPhone following the beacons led him to a house less than a mile away. He parked and his iPhone started beeping as he approached a car in the driveway. The trunk was ajar, with metal rods sticking out. Soon he realized that he was not the only victim of the theft.
Richardson, exasperated after weeks of vandalism, called the cops. When local police knocked on the door of the suspected vandal, Richardson said, the 22-year-old, clearly upset, knelt down and placed his hands on his head. Richardson asked the officer to find a “neighborhood arrangement” rather than press charges.
Richardson approached the young man and his grandfather. “Look, I don’t care if you disagree with my political position,” he said. “Millions of people have died for our right to free speech, our freedom of opinion and our right to vote. You don’t walk into somebody’s yard and try to take it. It is not fair.”
The alleged vandal apologized, according to Richardson, and the two had a brief dialogue about the issues. Richardson also wanted to know if the rat trap glue he was using really worked. “I put this stuff all over the signs,” he said. “The young man who stole the two signs, he said it was very effective and he actually ruined his clothes.”
Signs of the times
As the August 2 vote approaches, further disruption is expected. Haddix said Value Them Both will continue to represent the pro-life cause “through peaceful and persistent appeals to Kansans to value both women and babies.”
For Richardson, his “Value Them Both” yard sign is up again. Some would wonder why he did not insist that the rule of law be applied. Was this apology real – with officers standing nearby?
“Of course it’s frustrating that multiple people are stealing my property,” Richardson said. “But I didn’t want to contribute to a cascading snowball of polarization and hatred in our country. Instead, we had a face-to-face conversation where he heard my heart and I learned a bit of his story.
The minister added, “The Bible says, ‘Mercy triumphs over judgment.’ And I hope this little human interaction will have more impact on him than if I filed a complaint.
With five abortion-related state ballot initiatives to be decided this year, the “summer of rage” could drag into the fall in several states. Richardson sees the pro-life cause as rooted in ethics.
“In the hierarchy of ethical issues, nothing has higher priority than the mass slaughter of the most innocent little lambs the universe has to offer.”
Josh Shepherd covers culture, faith and public policy for several outlets, including The Stream. His articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion & Politics, Faithfully Magazine, Religion News Service and Providence Magazine. A graduate of the University of Colorado, he previously worked on staff at The Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family. Josh and his wife live in the Washington, DC area with their two children.