Susy Barsotti, the owner of the Black Oak Ranch and a representative of Laytonville’s Hog Farm community, demonstrated the community’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement by displaying a large sign with those words along the frontage of her property which abuts Highway 101 north of Laytonville. On the last day of 2020, Barsotti discovered vandals had used a chainsaw to cut down the sign and steal it.
Barsotti told us that the sign was a collective effort by Laytonville’s Hog Farm community to demonstrate the commune’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
She explained that the December 31 removal of the sign was the final act of escalating vandalism that began five months ago.
The first act of vandalism occurred after a late September cannabis robbery that occurred in Laytonville when four armed men entered a Laytonville residence and held a man, woman, and juvenile girl hostage for several hours.
Barsotti explained that the cannabis robbery and hostage situation was literally right next door and “my mostly elder community was terrified in their homes.”
Barsotti commented on RHBB’s article that though she understood the community was victimized, “[T]he image was problematic because it could be misconstrued under the circumstances of the cultural moment.”
Barsotti recalled feeling personally threatened when an anonymous commenter responded to her by saying “the next time we round up the bad guys, we can send them to Susy’s house.”
Another commenter specifically disclosed that Barsotti’s Black Oak Ranch was prominently displaying a Black Lives Matter sign along Highway 101.
Barsotti said she and the Hog Farm are well-known in the Laytonville community for their political advocacy. She and other members of the commune attended a Black Lives Matter rally held in Laytonville in July.
Just days later, the first act of vandalism occurred that Barsotti referred to as “cute.” Someone had changed the sign from “Black Lives Matter” to “Black Lies Matter.”
The second and third acts of vandalism both came in the form of what Barsotti called a “splatter-by,” essentially splattering paint across the sign obscuring the message.
Instead of covering up the vandalism, Barsotti and the Hog Farm would repaint the “Black Lives Matter” logo over the splatter in hopes to “create a conversation and provide an educational moment.” Barsotti called the second “splatter-by” a form of “whitewashing” because the vandals used white paint.
The last act of vandalism was discovered on New Year’s Eve morning when Barsotti found evidence that a vandal had chainsawed the sign’s supports and taken it.
Barsotti said, “On reflection, there has been an escalation in the vandalism. I consider the paint throwing far more whimsical; the chainsaw seemed more violent.”
Despite the campaign to silence her and the Hog Farm community’s speech, Barsotti said, “[E]very time this happens, we feel more determined to keep this message up.”
Barsotti said the Laytonville community had rallied around the Hog Farm after the destruction of the sign. She said a friend at Long Valley Lumber and another friend were willing to donate 22-foot metal uprights to display the message once again.
Barsotti expressed empathy for whoever is committing these acts of vandalism. She said, “[T]o think the message of “Black Lives Matter” is causing so much consternation is educational.”
Part of the Mendocino County ethos is the “live and let live” mentality, Barsotti explained, and so she said she was surprised that another party would go so far as to destroy the sign.
Law enforcement has not been informed of these circumstances, Barsotti said, Hog Farm residents “want to keep the focus on the message.” Ultimately, Barsotti believes “it would be a waste of energy looking for a perp, especially since at some point somebody or another is gonna spill the beans in our small town.”
When asked about the destruction of political speech on private property, Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall said, “[A]s per the First Amendment, everyone had a right to say what they want as long as it’s not criminal.”
Sheriff Kendall added that in a county like Mendocino, “[W]e don’t have enough neighbors to go around. We have to help our neighbors. If we cannot respect their speech, how can we respect them?”
Sheriff Kendall offered his version of Voltaire’s maxim to sum up his perspective on political speech: “I might not like what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”