Mackinac Island police evict group that hung political banner on lighthouse

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island — With the island teeming with politicians and other Michigan bigwigs this week, a group decided to use one of the island's most recognizable landmarks to advertise their political message.

But the Round Island Passage Light lighthouse is private property, and Mackinac Island police evicted the group Tuesday after its four members affixed a large banner onto the 74-year-old lighthouse calling for counting every Black vote, Police Chief Doug Topolski said.

An unknown political group affixed a banner onto the Round Island Light lighthouse near Mackinac Island

"I don't know what group it was," Topolski said. "They put up a huge three-story sign about counting every Black vote, and how we depend on Black voters. But that's private property, and the owner didn't give them permission to be there."

Topolski said the group left without incident. "They were very cooperative," he said. "We asked them to leave and a boat from St. Ignace came and picked them up ... due to their cooperation, they just got a warning."

He said someone from the Grand Hotel called at about noon Tuesday to tell him about the sign. The hotel is the site of this week's Mackinac Island Policy Conference, in which elected officials and other decision-makers meet annually to discuss the state's economic growth and other issues.

"I called the (lighthouse) owner, and he said he hadn't given the group permission to be there, so we got them out," Topolski said. "The lighthouse is a navigation device, and I thought there may have been federal ramifications (of affixing something to the structure)."

Kenneth Whittaker, director of the Michigan People's Campaign, said four members of the group posted the banner because they wanted to send a message to CEOs of companies who are "not taking seriously Black and brown voters' access to the ballot."

Whittaker said the group has rented an advertising airplane to circle Mackinac Island Thursday carrying its message. He said there are more plans to get through to CEOs while they're on the island this week.

"We did it by sea with the lighthouse; we're doing it by air (Thursday), and we'll do it by land, too," he said, although he added: "We keep our tactics close to the vest."

The group, which is a part of the Defend Black Voters Coalition, claims that multiple companies have given lip service to the Black Lives Matter campaign, but, according to Whittaker, "they've bankrolled the politicians who are supporting voter suppression."

The Round Island Passage Light is an automated, unmanned lighthouse that was sold at auction in 2014 for $65,500. The facility, which has been automated since 1973, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Topolski said rules prohibiting large signs on Mackinac Island likely drove the group to try to use the lighthouse to advertise its political message. The lighthouse sits in the busy Round Island Channel between Round Island and Mackinac Island.

"There's a pretty strict sign ordinance (on Mackinac Island), and you can't put up a big banner like that without a permit, so they probably figured they'd go offshore," the chief said. "There are a lot of boats in that shipping channel, and it's super busy."

Topolski said there isn't usually an issue with tourists or other groups trespassing onto private property.

"Most of the private homes have signs posted, and for the most part people respect that," he said. "Sometimes people will kayak out to there and stop on their way to Round Island, but there aren't usually any issues."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN