Construed as vandalism…
Three Coastal Carolina University students were handcuffed on Monday when university officers discovered they were writing messages in chalk pertaining to the recent events in Ferguson, Mo.
The officers who did not identify themselves asked the students what they were doing and were told, “drawing.” Senior student, Taylor Wright, was finishing the word “justice” when he was told by officers to stand up, and place hands behind the back. They were told not to resist and received no answers to their questions for the arrest.
According to the police report, the students were told that they are not allowed to chalk the sidewalks without “proper approval.” Wright, who had never heard of having to get a stamp of approval first, felt it was a thinly veiled form of censorship.
It was like some sort of game. They were like puppies excited to get out of the cage and get to do something.
Although they were released and escaped charges (at this time), the event appears unprecedented in two ways. It appears to be a first time occurrence of arrest over “chalking.” And, according to the detainees, students are always allowed to write chalk messages on sidewalks, typically to promote events. Yet, a university spokesperson has said since the event, that students must obtain permission first.
Furthermore, photographs were taken of the “scene of the crime.” The chalk was confiscated as evidence and the report listed the act as “illegal graffiti.” They listed $1,000 worth of damages – for chalk on a sidewalk! I’m not making this up.
Even though people have been outrageously detained for writing in chalk before, again, again and again – the disturbing element here is that officers felt justified because the language surrounded Ferguson. That is, their report states they found students writing messages, “pertaining to the disapproval of the recent Grand Jury decision not to indict the police officer involved in the Michael Brown case.”
They, therefore, felt it their duty to snoop on other chalk messages – which appears to have happened over the weekend before the handcuffing. In a separate report, they noted vulgarity.
Another detained senior, Jillian Ditch, couldn’t understand the escalation and offense taken by the officers, noting that her messages were about unity and hope. However, personal offense taken and dislike of a chalk message is not grounds for arrest, nor is it vandalism as the officers tried to construe it.
It’s one thing for a university to issue a rule against breaking out the chalk on their private property – it’s wholly another for officers to make arrests because they don’t like the washable message.
To students across the country: badges do not grant extra power over others, especially where mere personal disapproval is concerned.
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