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Man served for destroying Black Lives Matter signs as billboards go up in Niceville

Savannah Evanoff
Washington County News

NICEVILLE – The man responsible for tearing down and stealing the Black Lives Matter signs placed along the fencing at Niceville High School on June 14 won’t go unpunished.

Niceville Police Chief David Popwell said they identified him within only two-and-a-half hours of the incident. There was only one suspect in the case.

“We dealt with him and he was like, ‘Yeah I did it. I have no problem with taking care of whatever I’ve got to take care of legally or criminally,’” Popwell said. He’s cooperative with us. We interviewed him. He admitted to everything. It’s a pretty simple case.”

A group of young people in Niceville has rallied behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

The State Attorney signed off on a criminal summons that became active July 29 and was served by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office this past Thursday. The misdemeanor charge is for criminal mischief for damaged property $200 and under.

"We are pleased that we are able to see justice regarding the act to silent people in our community,” said Hannah Schneidewind, a Niceville High School alumna.

Niceville High School students and alumni placed signs along the fence at Niceville High School that were ripped off during the local protest Sunday afternoon.

The signs made by Niceville School students and alumni were destroyed during a protest and march from Niceville City Hall to the Niceville Skate Park in support of the amplified Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd. Destroying and removing the signs was illegal because the High School is private property and the creators had received permission from Principal Charlie Marello to display the signs.

Many community members – especially the creators of the signs – sought justice.

Several groups of Niceville community members have placed Black Lives Matter messages in various forms throughout the city.

A student involved with posting the signs who seeks to remain anonymous filed an incident report shortly after the man was identified.

While the destruction was disheartening; it helped propel forward an even bigger movement.

The group of activists responsible for the posters around the Niceville community raised $7,000 from individual community members in the first three weeks on their GoFundMe page and collaborated with the nonprofit Project I’mpossible to place four Black Lives Matter billboards in Niceville for four to eight weeks each.

The first billboard in the series went on display July 13 near the intersection of College Boulevard and U.S. Highway 85.

“The billboards have sparked conversations in our community,” Schneidewind said. “Even with the countless hate emails and messages I’ve received, overall people have stated that this billboards created a more inclusive and anti-racist community. I’ve had numerous people reach out and state that seeing the billboard everyday is the reason they started to talking about the glaring issue that exists in Niceville and our country.”

The second billboard was posted Monday on State Road 20 in Bluewater Bay. The third will go up Sept. 28 on State Road 20 in Niceville.

“After the success we’ve seen with the first billboard, we are thrilled to have another going up in a new location,” Schneidewind said. “This opens up the opportunity for new conversations in our town.”