In the wake of national Black Lives Matter demonstrations and differing opinions surrounding those events, one person’s art can be another’s vandalism.
In Stoughton, after a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators held a violin vigil at the Rotary Park Gazebo Saturday, July 4, some participants left messages and hand prints behind in red paint. Rotary Club of Stoughton volunteers flocked to the gazebo to restore the structure the following weekend, calling it “graffiti” with “spray paint” in a July 12 Facebook post.
The Stoughton Police Department is investigating the incident as criminal damage to city property and vandalism, chief Gregory Leck told the Hub July 16.
“If and when” the department identifies who is responsible for the damage, he said, “they will likely face citations for the violation.”
The Rotary Gazebo is owned and maintained by the city, city parks director Dan Glynn confirmed, but the Rotarians have assisted with maintenance efforts since they fundraised for the gazebo’s construction in 2013.
Vigil organizer Dylan Bennett admitted to being responsible for the painting. In a post on the Rotary of Stoughton Facebook page about the cleanup effort but described the paint as acrylic, which is water soluble but dries quickly. Bennett called it easily washable.
“Arrest me,” Bennett wrote. “Strike me down where I stand. Black lives matter.”
Bennett made a similar statement to the Hub on July 16, saying “I already told the police department, that if you’re going to cite me, do it.”
Rotary Club of Stoughton President Jason Guerin told the Hub even though he feels the demonstrators vandalized the gazebo, the club stands behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
For example, he said the club donated $3,500 to the Stoughton Area School District for books to participate in a Dane County Consortium equity study. The club has also invited speakers to its meetings to deliver presentations on the Black Lives Matter movement and other topics regarding diversity.
Bennett told the Hub the event was to honor Elijah McClain, a 23 year old black man who died in the summer of 2019 after Aurora, Colorado, police restrained him with a chokehold, according to a June 30 New York Times story. Amid the ongoing protests this summer all over the country have been several violin vigils, referencing the man’s interest in playing the instrument.
Bennett pointed to a photo he took depicting a violinist standing at the center of the Rotary Gazebo playing a song as signs surrounding her, reading, “No Justice, No Peace” and “We Are Heard.” On the Rotary Gazebo columns, using what Bennett described as red acrylic paint, the demonstrators wrote “BLM” and McClain’s name.
The group also left red hand prints, both on the columns and on the ground surrounding the structure, the pictures show.
The July 12 Rotary post made no mention of the vigil or the messages contained, simply calling it vandalism.
“We are sadden by the vandalism at Rotary park this past week,” it read. “We are grateful to the Rotarians that were able to help out on short notice to power wash the paint from the cement/stone and scrub away the spray paint from the plexiglass that was protecting the beautiful rosemaling.”
Guerin later told the Hub if the club had known what the demonstrators were going to do ahead of time, it would have accommodated them somehow.
“We are sensitive to what they are trying to do and (the message) they are trying to get across,” he said.