NEWPORT CITY â Writing on the sidewalks has gotten three area residents in trouble with the city.
Diane Peel and Tom Farrow of Newport City and Jack Rogers of Irasburg were ticketed for writing in chalk between Second Street and Central Street. The three plan to fight the tickets in court.
After the group finished their project, Peel walked home, got into her car and passed by where the group had been 15-minutes earlier. There she saw a police officer taking pictures but she did not stop to question why. An hour later, Peel passed by again and the artwork was gone.
Newport City Police Chief Seth DiSanto said each person received a municipal ticket for putting graffiti on the sidewalk. Some of things the group wrote apparently constitute graffiti, he said.
DiSanto hasnât seen the photographs of the scene and didn't know what the group exactly wrote.
The three people received the tickets several days after the offense. Peel actually told police she was involved after hearing what had happened to her partners.
Peel doesnât feel they were disorderly and said the sidewalk is a public space.
âWe didnât have any evil intentions or malicious things in mind,â said Rogers. âWe were just decorating the sidewalk. It seemed perfectly normal to us.â
âWe wrote what we believe were positive messages on the sidewalk,â added Farrow.
Some merchants were not happy about what the group wrote, city mayor Paul Monette said.
Peel said sheâs sorry a shop owner was annoyed, but pointed out the shop owner doesnât own the sidewalk.
The group wanted to make their efforts upbeat. Peel said she attempted to write things that gave people pause to think. Peel wrote things like: âBig corporations donât care about your health, buy local,â âSupport Community Gardens,â âItâs your town, take control,â and âWhat would you like to see on Main Street?â with an arrow pointing to an empty storefront.
Farrow wrote things like âGod is Loveâ and âYou have to have a membership card to get inside,â which is a quote from the song "Signs." He also drew a symbol from the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."
Rogers wrote things like âGod lives here,â âHave a good day,â âBe at peace,â and âTake care of the city.â He also wrote 4:20, which is a marijuana usage code, and "Free Pot," promoting marijuana, because he feels the government should immediately legalize marijuana/cannabis.
Rogers blames City Manager John Ward Jr. for the tickets. He said Ward wanted them arrested but police thought otherwise and issued tickets instead.
Ward said he doesnât direct the police to arrest people, but acknowledged he asked police to enforce the vandalism ordinance. He said he hopes the police would give a ticket to anyone who commits vandalism in the city.
Peel, 60, a nurse, feels she needs to do whatever she can to make the world a better place.
Chalk is tremendously popular right now with the Occupy Movement all over the country, Peel said.
âIt is popular because it is very democratic,â she said. âItâs cheap, anybody can use it, itâs colorful and, most importantly, itâs impermanent so that the space is available again for someone else who has something to say.â
âThere are other ways to get your political message out to the public other than putting graffiti all over the sidewalks of the City of Newport,â Monette said. âThey can walk up and down the street with signs if they want.â
This was the second time the group wrote on the sidewalk. Members did a similar thing last spring and received positive comments from many people. The group plans to hold a âmic checkâ gathering on Main Street Saturday. Farrow calls mic check gatherings as well as the chalk drawings a primitive means to practice free speech while corporations and governments have unlimited money to spread their word. Farrow would like to have a real forum some place where they can use real microphones.