Dimitri Hepburn is a 39-year-old Black man from the Bronx who’s been living in North Park, Chicago for 10 years. Although he said the neighborhood is becoming an increasingly diverse one, that didn’t stop him from recently experiencing an act of racism by an apparent Chicago city employee working on his block.

On Thursday, Aug. 12, Hepburn shared a video from his home security camera capturing a city employee ripping a Black Lives Matter sign from his front lawn and placing it face down on the ground. He said the incident began around 11:48 a.m. that day.

“The camera on my doorbell triggers a recording when it detects a person within a certain distance,” Hepburn told The TRiiBE in an initial Twitter direct message.

Days before, Hepburn said he noticed paint markers on the sidewalk and grass near his home in the 3300 block of West Hollywood Avenue. He assumed there would be some impending pipe maintenance taking place in the area. On Aug. 12, after the city employee arrived and placed a “No Parking” sign on the tree near Hepburn’s home, he then pulled the Black Lives Matter sign out of the ground.

“When he tossed it and it landed with the print facing upward, he turned it over,” Hepburn said. The whole scene is captured on video.

The city employee has not yet been identified. 

“To the city employee who saw fit to rip the Black Lives Matter sign from our front yard just now, F— YOU. You about to lose yo job” Hepburn initially wrote in a tweet after the incident on Aug. 12. 

Hepburn said the sign has been in his yard for a few months. He’s also seen similar signs on properties throughout the neighborhood.

“I felt like the video needed to be out there so that he would know that someone captured what he had done, that it wasn't right, that people objected to it, and so that he could be held accountable by his employers,” Hepburn said. Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

Hepburn was at work when the incident took place, but his wife texted him the video from their home security camera. They’ve owned their home for about 10 years. The TRiiBE spoke to Hepburn on Aug. 16 about the incident.

“I was furious when I saw [the video]. It was surprising the audacity that he showed, the hubris that he thought it would be a thing that would be fine for him to do. To step onto our property to do what he did seemed like a personal insult,” Hepburn said. 

He mentioned that the “No Parking” signs were placed on the trees in the public walkway. As seen in the video, the city employee had to cross the sidewalk onto Hepburn’s private property to pull the BLM sign out of the ground.

“I wasn’t there; he wasn’t doing that to me, per se. But I mean, it seemed like he went out of his way to do something that was not only illegal but hurtful personally to me and my family,” Hepburn added.

This latest instance of racial discrimination points to the growing tension between the ongoing Movement for Black Lives Matter here in Chicago, the city itself, the general public and police. Last week, two Chicago City Council members — alderpeople Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) and Nick Sposato (38th Ward) — linked the shooting death of Chicago Police officer Ella French to the local and nationwide calls to defund the police. 

Last summer, during the 2020 uprisings, activists and organizers nationwide demanded money be reallocated from police budgets to community services following the police murder of George Floyd. In Chicago, organizers saw a partial win last month when the city approved the historic Empowering Communities for Public Safety Ordinance, creating an elected civilian oversight board for CPD and the Civilian Office of Police Oversight (COPA).

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However, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has explicitly said she will not defund the police. After CPD officer French’s death, Lightfoot said during the 2022 Budget Forecast press conference that she plans to increase the CPD budget, which was nearly $1.7 billion in 2021 — 40% of the city’s spending budget. 

North Park, located on the North Side of Chicago, is becoming an increasingly diverse neighborhood, Hepburn said. However, according to data from the city’s Metropolitan Agency for Planning, North Park is nearly 50% white, 20% Latinx, 25% Asian and 2% Black.

Hepburn added that he’s been the victim of other instances of racial discrimination in the community. About a month ago, he said a seemingly middle-aged white woman recorded a video of him walking through the area. He started taking more walks around the neighborhood during COVID-19 lockdown, and he believes the woman recorded him because she thought he was suspicious. And back in 2014, he said a CPD officer tracked his movements while walking home on a winter night from a nearby 7-Eleven where he purchased some items. Both instances rubbed Hepburn the wrong way.

“There have been a couple of incidents where I do feel unwelcome in the neighborhood,” Hepburn said. “Generally, our neighbors are friendly, and they’ll say hello. I guess this is true of anywhere in America; there’s the occasional instance of feeling unwelcome as a Black person walking around in the neighborhood.” 

The TRiiBE reached out to the city’s Department of Water Management (DWM) on Aug. 16 for comment on this incident. Megan Vidis, a DWM spokesperson ​​wrote back: “This incident goes against our values as a City. The Chicago Department of Water Management does not tolerate any misconduct on the part of our employees. We are working on confirmation that this is a DWM employee and have referred the matter to the Office of the Inspector General.”

On the day of the incident, Hepburn’s wife reached out to their alderperson, Samantha Nugent (39th Ward), to report what happened. When The TRiiBE reached out to Nugent’s office on Aug. 16, we received the same written statement they sent to CBS 2 Chicago last week: “This incident surrounding the Black Lives Matter sign being removed is unacceptable in the 39th Ward. I have been working with various city departments in an attempt to identify the individual in the video and which department they may work. It is believed the individual is connected with the Department of Water Management (DWM) either as an employee or as a contractor. The DWM is working to identify the individual and confirm they are an employee of the department. It is the standard procedure of the Department of Water Management to refer issues of this magnitude to the Office of Inspector General for a complete investigation and necessary action.”

One of the "No Parking" signs placed on Hepburn's street. Photo by Darius Griffin // The TRiiBE

A few days removed from the incident, Hepburn said he doesn’t want to see the city employee lose his job, considering that the world is still in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic where this time last year the unemployment rate had risen to 15 percent. Currently, the unemployment rate in the Chicago area is more than 8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So why did Hepburn come forward with the footage?

“I felt like the video needed to be out there so that he would know that someone captured what he had done, that it wasn’t right, that people objected to it, and so that he could be held accountable by his employers,” Hepburn said.

Hepburn’s documentation of what happened to his family occurs on social media almost daily. White people who carry out racist and discriminatory acts are increasingly being captured on video. In some cases, these incidents go viral and the consequences for those who cause harm can be swift. For example, take Amy Cooper, the white woman who called 911 on a Black birdwatcher in New York last year. Cooper was fired the day after the incident.

“He thought it was fine for him to do that [and] that he would get away with it,” Hepburn said about the city employee.

Still, Hepburn said the incident hasn’t discouraged his family from putting the Black Lives Matter sign back in their yard. 

“It did not deter us from displaying the sign. My wife put it back up immediately after she noticed it was down. So it’s up now,” Hepburn said. “I joked that we should paint our whole fence as a big BLM sign.”

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.