NEWPORT CITY – 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 hasn’t 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 doesn’t feel they were disorderly and said the sidewalk is a public space.
“We didn’t have any evil intentions or malicious things in mind,” said Rogers. “We were just decorating the sidewalk. It seemed perfectly normal to us.”
“We wrote what we believe were positive messages on the sidewalk,” added Farrow.
Some merchants were not happy about what the group wrote, city mayor Paul Monette said.
Peel said she’s sorry a shop owner was annoyed, but pointed out the shop owner doesn’t 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: “Big corporations don’t care about your health, buy local,” “Support Community Gardens,” “It’s your town, take control,” and “What would you like to see on Main Street?” with an arrow pointing to an empty storefront.
Farrow wrote things like “God is Love” and “You have to have a membership card to get inside,” 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 “God lives here,” “Have a good day,” “Be at peace,” and “Take care of the city.” 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 doesn’t 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.
“It is popular because it is very democratic,” she said. “It’s cheap, anybody can use it, it’s colorful and, most importantly, it’s impermanent so that the space is available again for someone else who has something to say.”
“There 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,” Monette said. “They can walk up and down the street with signs if they want.”
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 “mic check” 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.