“Beyond the Chief” exhibit signs recovered from weekend theft

An anonymous tip from Crimestoppers on Monday evening led the University of Illinois Police Department to two signs that were stolen Saturday night from the “Beyond the Chief” art exhibit.

A “Crime Alert” e-mail sent out by University Chief of Police Barbara O’Connor was sent out Monday afternoon regarding the theft that described the appearance of the suspect.

The e-mail also contained a link to the Division of Public Safety Web site which had a video clip from the surveillance cameras showing the suspect.

Lt. Roy Acree of the University Police Department said that e-mail alerts like this one are sent out for certain crimes in order to get information out to those on campus.

“After a tip from Crimestoppers,” Acree said, “we were able to recover the signs at a designated place on campus.”

Native American House director Dr. Robert Warrior said that the police department had not given back the retrieved signs to the House at this time.

“The University Police Department is holding onto the signs as evidence,” Warrior said. “Including this one, there have been a total of seven incidents of vandalism to the exhibit.”

Surveillance cameras were installed after multiple crimes targeting the exhibit.

“We have put up surveillance cameras in past investigations,” Acree said, “They are put up if it is fairly certain that the location will be targeted again based on how often it was before.”

The University had suggested the cameras be installed after multiple acts of vandalism had occurred.

“When the idea of installing surveillance cameras was suggested,” Warrior said, “I had to make sure that I discussed it with my faculty and my students, since it is their privacy that was to be invaded. We decided to install them after two days of discussion.”

Warrior said the University police had suggested installing surveillance equipment to him before they had gotten approval from the University of Illinois Senate.

Senate Clerk Bob Damrau said that the Senate will be deciding on a permanent policy regarding campus surveillance cameras later this fall.

“As of now,” Damrau said, “there is no policy is place that would have prohibited the University police from putting up surveillance equipment outside of the Native American House.”

Whether any of these crimes surrounding vandalism of the signs can be considered a hate crime is debatable.

“I think it’d be difficult to prove that it was a hate crime,” Acree said referring to the most recent crime. “That’d be up to the State’s Attorney to decide if there is enough evidence there to define it as one.”

Warrior said that he thinks that all seven of the vandalism incidents were hate crimes.

“I agree with the U.S. Department of Justice’s definition of hate crime,” Warrior said. “(The University) said that it wasn’t one, but I disagree.”

Warrior said the University had suggested that the incidents were most likely not committed by students, but were instead done by people from the Champaign-Urbana community.

“It tends to deflect the issue of whether students were involved,” Warrior said. “I think it casts a certain negative light on the local community.”

The hearsay, Warrior said, is that people are vandalizing these signs in response to having the Chief retired.

“There seems to be a different perspective than what the exhibit really stands for,” Warrior said. “The artist said that the signs are meant to be a memorial that signified the removals of specific people from their land. It marks the tribes whose homelands we are on which weren’t marked previously.”

When the artist of the exhibit Edgar Heap of Birds came to the campus in April in response to prior vandalism, he had tied onto the poles of several signs a package of braided sweet grass and tobacco. The majority of the other signs also have ribbon and decorations tied on to their posts by students.

“We encourage students to communicate with the exhibit,” Warrior said. “I hope the people who are engaging in this behavior of vandalism will stop. I wish they would just ignore it if they didn’t like it, or find another way to express themselves differently. I completely support freedom of speech.”