Local officials have also spoken out about recent vandalism.
On Tuesday, places like the Jasper Riverwalk, Hometown IGA, and the Jasper Walmart were found to be spray painted with phrases such as “We Shall Overcome” “Justice 4 Floyd”, and “I Can’t Breathe”. These phrases reference protests rising across the United States after the deaths of people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
We spoke with Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide about the vandalism. He says that the city won’t tolerate vandalism and calls it disrespectful. Vonderheide also says that acts like spray painting local businesses will not help solve tensions regarding racial injustice.
“They think that this is going to help. Graffiti doesn’t help. This is destruction. This is defacing of assets that have been blood sweat and tears of local residents and their businesses. It’s unfortunate that people feel like they have to use graffiti as a means for expressing themselves rather than vocally getting involved in peaceful demonstrations like the one that took place last Saturday.”
Regarding the peaceful protest held by ONE – Dubois County, which took place last Saturday at the Dubois County Courthouse, Vonderheide says that the event helped people learn and raise awareness.
“Well, I thought it was it was handled well. It seemed to be well-organized. People had the right intent, which was to bring awareness and to drive change. Part of driving changes to educate and I think that group did a nice job of trying to educate citizens and bring the awareness to the forefront.”
Vonderheide says that he understands the Black Lives Matter movement and the reason behind it. He compliments ONE – Dubois County for the work they are doing.
ONE – Dubois County issued the following statement to us.
“Black people are harmed every day by systemic racism. The protests, nationally and the one held locally on Saturday, are about protecting the lives of Black people by dismantling the systems of murder and oppression. This message has been eclipsed by vandalism. ONE-DC continues to work towards our common goals of civil and human rights.”
Vonderheide acknowledges that the city tries to be welcoming to everyone, but he knows that that is not always the case.
“I really feel like as a community we try to embrace. Yes, there are differences. Yes, we don’t do as well as we should when it comes to handling diversity; but by no means are we accepting anything with responsibility toward brutality. To me, brutality is the message. It’s not necessarily the police brutality. It’s brutality in general.”
We also spoke with Jasper Police Chief Nathan Schmitt about the vandalism.
“They’re extremely disappointing. Anytime somebody’s going out and defacing city property, public property, and other people’s property, it’s disappointing to us. If you have a message to share, that’s not the way to go about doing that.”
Schmitt says the Jasper Police Department is following a few leads on trying to find out who did this. Schmitt says that they have been aware and prepared for similar incidents since last Thursday when the Jasper Riverwalk was defaced in a separate place.
“We’ve had four incidents in the last 5 days. So, I would guess that they’re local. I think it’s probably somebody that doesn’t really have a lot to do with the movement. They are just trying to spark outrage in the community and the deface property because it’s not a way to increase your movement or get force behind your movement. It’s actually, from what we have experienced at the police department, we’re finding out it had the exact opposite effect.”
Schmitt says that the police department has received several calls from concerned citizens about what they can do to help the police department find the suspects.
Schmitt says that he and the rest of the police force aren’t worried about tensions escalating in Dubois County like other areas around the country. He says this is because of the good relationships the department has with its citizens.
“We don’t have a lot of fear down here that we’re going to have some of the issues that other communities have because of the great people in this community and the support that we have of the community. The partnerships that we built over the years and our ability to work together and solve a lot of problems.”
If anyone has any information about these incidents, call the Jasper Police Department at 812-482-2255.