A local group with the goal of ending racism in Wayne County has apparently met resistance in the form of repeated vandalism. Wayne Action for Racial Equality (WARE) has kept a finger to the pulse of racial equity and social justice movements for over forty years, but especially this past tumultuous year. The group has had representation at many Black Lives Matter (BLM) marches across the county, as well as strong engagement with the police reform process associated with Executive Order 203.
Through this growing movement, the WARE group decided to expand its visibility to include billboards and signage throughout Wayne County.
“As members of the greater Wayne County community,” said Beth Ares of the WARE Billboard & Sign Committee, “we felt compelled to speak up against racism nationwide and locally, and developed the billboard and sign initiative so that our voices could be heard by the public.”
The billboards ranged in size and scope from validation of the energetic BLM marches to the importance of election participation to encouraging COVID-19 vaccination practices. While many community members donated monies to these billboard and messaging causes, it sadly appears that some people desire to negate these efforts.
The WARE group has experienced two separate instances of vandalism to signage it has placed at the Redeem Bethel Community Worship Center in Williamson. The most recent vandalism appears to relate to both race and vaccination, as evidenced by the spray-painting of the faces depicted on the signage, as well as the blacking out of images of actual vaccine and vaccination as a practice.
When reached for comment, Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts noted that this criminal act is classified as a felony due to the financial impact of the vandalism. Previous vandalism is being investigated by New York State Police.
Alongside the mere property destruction, the vandal’s messaging is also quite peculiar, seeming to invoke not only racism in terms of “black-facing” the human images, but also in relaying a “anti-vaccination” message. This is especially curious as the Redeem Bethel Church was the site of a vaccination clinic primarily promoted to the black and brown community just a few months ago.
“It saddens me that such nonsense occurs when the vaccination message is the same for all individuals,” said Diane Devlin, Director of Wayne County Public Health. “It should not matter what one’s race, ethnicity or gender is on a billboard, sign, etc. The intent of the message is ‘get vaccinated, they (vaccinations) are safe for ALL.”
The atmosphere of division across the nation, as well as across Wayne County, has become palpable throughout the 15 months of the Coronavirus Pandemic, at times reaching the level of personal attack or property destruction.
Anyone with any information about this crime is urged to contact the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office at (315)946-9711.