About 13 people began writing chalk messages to Rhode Island legislators in the parking lot of the State House Sunday afternoon. Those writing messages had just left the Resist Hate RI meeting held at Hope High School earlier in the day. The chalk messages were a way of sending legislators important last minute messages in the final week of the legislative session.
Messages such as “My Body My Choice,” “No guns for perpetrators of domestic violence,” “Everybody deserves earned sick time,” and, of course, “No New Power Plant” were crafted with colorful chalk. The messages were strong but polite (for the most part), and all messages were political in nature.
After the small group had been writing for only a few minutes, a Capitol Police officer came outside and told them that writing in chalk on the parking lot and sidewalks was considered vandalism under state law. “It would be different if you were holding signs,” said the officer. The officer said it was vandalism and if the group did not stop, the state police were arriving to arrest.
Under Rhode Island State law regarding graffiti, “Every person who shall willfully, maliciously or mischievously write upon, paint, or otherwise deface the private property or residence of another, any office building, business or commercial property or public building or public property, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, for the first and second offense, said penalty shall not exceed a $1,000 fine and community service not exceeding 200 hours.”
In addition, those arrested and fined would be responsible for cleaning costs, but in this case a late afternoon rain seems to have taken care of the problem, since there was little sign of the messages when I went past there this afternoon.
Every person chalking messages to their legislators was potentially running the risk of a $1,000 state issued fine for writing chalk messages on a sidewalk or parking space. Under Providence law, using chalk on pavement is not considered graffiti, but there’s nothing in state law that seems to differentiate between spray paint and sidewalk chalk. It should be noted that the organizers of the event told everyone not to use the chalk on the marble facing of the State House itself, only on the pavement.
As people packed up their chalk and left, the Capitol Police officer wrote down their license plates. As I took photos, I was told by the officer, “You know you are being recorded right?”
I responded that I assume I’m always being recorded when in public.
In the video below, it might be possible to make out that the officer is telling everyone to leave. The wind seems to have taken the audio.