Arrest warrants were issued for six people accused of spray painting the street outside the Charlottesville Police Department over the last two weeks. Police say the demonstrators “vandalized the streets and the sidewalks with cruel, threatening, and hate-filled language.”
The first four charges, announced in a June 25 press release, concerned paint on the sidewalk after the June 21 defund the police rally outside the station. The most common spray-painted slogan was “Black Lives Matter;” other comments included “Murderers belong in jail,” “Fund mental health,” and “Fuck 12.”
The tone of the press release suggests the activists got under the department’s skin. “We will continue to prioritize the public’s health and safety, but criminal actions that deface public spaces or put the safety of others at risk cannot be tolerated,” the release said, adding that police have “launched a full investigation” and are “not finished.”
The department also claimed the clean-up price tag would total $20,000, because, according to its estimates, a section of Market Street would need to be repaved, at a cost of $15,000 reports NBC29. (We know the city is capable of removing spray paint without destroying surfaces—it has removed messages from the Market Street Park Robert E. Lee statue plenty of times, including this past weekend, and the statue is still there.)
The department has been inconsistent in its reactions to public speech in front of its offices. On Wednesday, June 24, the police department’s Twitter page posted a photo showing a sign planted outside the office, reading “We appreciate and support you CPD!!!”
“More kind words and support from our community with these signs in front of our lobby,” the tweet reads. No arrest warrants were issued for the people who placed these signs.
According to Charlottesville Planning Commissioner Rory Stolzenberg, who has been active in cataloging the police department’s public messaging in recent weeks, city attorney John Blair ruled that all signs should be removed from the area under Virginia’s unlawful posting rule.
After the June 21 defund the police rally, some protesters marched down the mall, directing chants at diners sitting outside. Though disruptive, this is constitutionally protected speech. The June 25 police press release implied otherwise, saying the protesters “chose to engage in unacceptable and criminal behavior.”
“Is it appropriate for the police to be running this messaging campaign in its own defense against protests that call for defunding the police?” Stolzenberg asked at Monday’s Police Civilian Review Board meeting.
Charlottesville activists have been demonstrating peacefully for weeks, regularly holding marches calling for defunding the police and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. These are the first arrest warrants issued for activity related to these protests.
Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania will now have to decide whether or not to aggressively prosecute those accused. If the suspects are charged and convicted, they could face a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail.