This is the restored sign that was taken from Monroe resident Bob Barlow's home and trashed, along with a hanging plant and the bracket that held the plant.
A few days ago, my wife and I returned from a trip upstate to discover that someone had smashed a hanging plant of ours, broken the bracket that held it in place and removed a small, 22-by-14-inch lawn sign from our yard. I assume it was the sign that precipitated this act. Designed to resemble our nation’s flag, the sign’s message was simple: “In our America, all people are equal; black lives matter; immigrants & refugees are welcome; disabilities are respected; women are in charge of their bodies; people & planet are valued over profit; diversity is celebrated.” (Punctuation added for clarity.) Political disagreements are part and parcel of life in the United States, and that’s a good thing: The free exchange of opposing ideas is healthy for the body politic. Our right to express our beliefs is baked right into the First Amendment to the Constitution. Any attempt to squelch my right to free speech – say, by uprooting a sign from my yard – is patently un-American. Trust me: I’ve seen signs around Monroe that have upset me sufficiently to make me consider demolishing them. My reverence for the Constitution, my respect for the law and my belief that our strength derives from our diversity (including diversity of opinion) stop me from doing so. Stealing my sign was not merely an insult to the Constitution; it was also an offense against the laws of the state of New York. Theft of property valued up to $1,000 is a Class A Misdemeanor in the Empire State and is punishable by both a monetary fine and jail time. But the person who stole my sign and smashed my plant did more than simply break the law. They also eroded some of my faith in our town. With the exception of a few brief stints elsewhere, I’ve lived in Monroe since my mom and dad moved our family out of Newark, New Jersey in 1966. I attended Pine Tree Elementary School as a fifth-grader and returned years later to teach fifth grade in my old school for more than two decades. My wife has lived in the area even longer: Born at Good Sam in Suffern, she grew up in Southfields, right across the street from the roadside eatery her grandfather started during the Depression. Our local roots run deep. So it’s especially disappointing to face the ugly possibility that whoever strolled onto my property, smashed my plant and stole my sign is also a resident of Monroe. The sign was eventually found, not far from our house, somewhat mangled but not irreparably so. I have “planted” it again, in the hope that the destructive acts described above were an aberration rather than an indication that we live in a place where it’s normal for political disagreements to be expressed through trespassing and larceny. Like that sign, my faith in Monroe has been bent out of shape, but not beyond repair. Is it unrealistic for me to expect we can disagree without disrespecting each other or breaking the law? For the sake of our town, and of our nation, I hope not.