A handmade sign is all that remains Monday of Black Lives Matter signs on Pleasant Street in Hallowell. Several BLM signs disappeared from lawns overnight, according to residents. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

HALLOWELL — Brett and Jane Shain of Page Street in Hallowell began worrying about their neighborhood’s 20 or so Black Lives Matter signs earlier in the summer when a black pickup truck flying a flag supporting President Donald Trump was seen driving slowly around their neighborhood.

“Right now, this country is in a bit of a mess,” Jane Shain said. “It’s erupting and I feel like some of these people … their racism has been empowered.”

She said the pickup truck driver’s behavior July 4 prompted her and her neighbors to collect their Black Lives Matter signs from their lawns and bring them inside.

On Monday, a number of the neighborhood’s Black Lives Matter signs were missing.

“It’s just very wrong,” Jane Shain said. “I don’t love Donald Trump by any means, but I wouldn’t take a Trump sign.”

Hallowell Police Chief Scott MacMaster said eight to 10 signs were reported stolen in the area of Page and Pleasant streets. He said the thefts reportedly took place around 2:30 a.m. Monday. A silhouette of a person was captured around that time by a security system at one of the houses, but it did not provide enough detail to determine the person’s identity.

MacMaster estimated a total of 15 signs may have been stolen in the city.

There are no concrete leads, he said, and police were hoping a home security system caught the culprit or the culprit’s vehicle. MacMaster said Officers Eric Nason and Ron Grotton were patrolling the city after a shift change at 2 a.m., but the first stolen sign call came in at 7:30 a.m.

“There were people available to take calls,” he said of the staffing at the time of the thefts.

The signs, which were designed by Hallowell artist Chris Cart, feature a drawing of George Floyd and the words “Black Lives Matter.” Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died while in police custody May 25 when Derek Chauvin, then a Minneapolis police officer, kneeled on the back of Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.

Floyd’s death sparked a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement, which has led to large protests in Maine and across the country. Those protest, which fight to end systemic racism, continue in many American cities.

MacMaster, the former police chief in Richmond, said he often sees political signs stolen, but called the theft of the George Floyd signs “an oddity.” The BLM signs, however, are not classified as political.

“You typically don’t see that type of sign stealing when it’s something for the cause,” he said.

Each theft would be classed as a misdemeanor, MacMaster said, because each sign has a value of about $20. If the cumulative value of stolen signs were to reach $1,000, he said, the theft could be prosecuted as a felony.

MacMaster said he initially thought more signs might be reported stolen, but some on Central and Second streets were untouched Monday.

He called the thefts “frustrating” and said they are symptoms of the nation’s polarized political climate.

“The energy and maliciousness behind taking somebody’s sign, it takes it from being a movement and a cause and it makes it political,” MacMaster said. “We all should be able to respect each others opinions and agree to disagree, but you don’t bring crime into it.”

The Shains and their neighbors have already placed orders for new signs.

“You can take my sign, but you can’t take what’s in my heart,” Brett Shain said.

“They’re cowards and they’re doing this in the cover of night,” Jane Shain said. “Why don’t you be a human being. If you have objectives like that, (address) it the right way?”

The Black Lives Matter signs in Hallowell were not the first to turn up missing or be damaged in central Maine.

In August, a Waldo woman reported her Black Lives Matter sign was stolen, and a replacement sign was spray-painted with a swastika.

The same month, a group from Wayne wrote a letter to the editor in response to those who had stolen a Black Lives Matter sign.

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