‘Chalk it Up’ event in Rocky Mount leads to graffiti controversy

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"C.H.A.L.K. It Up" event in Rocky Mount on July 4.

“C.H.A.L.K. It Up” event in Rocky Mount on July 4.

ROCKY MOUNT, Va. (WFXR) — On Saturday, July 4, Franklin County’s Black Lives Matter group gathered at a ‘Chalk it Up’ event in Downtown Rocky Mount. Three days later, the town washed the chalk from the bridge after it says numerous residents called in with claims of vandalism.

The Town of Rocky Mount stated on Facebook:

“Our normal policy is to remove graffiti right away, but given the protest and first amendment issues raised, we gave it time. Why? Removing it right away would have been dampening to free speech. After leaving it for three days, the Town cleaned off the walls of the bridge. Again why? Well, that is our rule – we don’t allow graffiti to remain as it encourages more.”

The Town of Rocky Mount, Facebook

Organizers and attendees of the event take a different stance:

“Members of our community have been trying to be open with generational struggles they’ve had with racism. The current climate made them feel compelled to share their stories. Our town was willing to be “supportive” of the voices crying out for love and justice until it became uncomfortable for them to do so. The moment they had to deal with the anger of racists, they hurried to shut things down. This was a case of selective enforcement, as evidenced by the graffiti that’s been in town for years. The chalk drawings that would have been rinsed off in the next rain were removed at tax payer’s expense to quell racist uproars, while actual graffiti of white supremacy have been allowed to go unchallenged for years. We should collectively be ashamed as a community for what we’ve allowed to go on for too long. The town government of Rocky Mount should be ashamed for giving into hate when the moment came for them to take a stand.”

Stephanie Cook, Chalk it Up event attendee

“I feel that it is a slap in the face what the town of Rocky Mount had done to our artwork of love and justice. I did not expect them to pressure wash it off when there has been racist graffiti on several bridges that have been there for years. They felt that three days 62 hours was enough time for us to get the message across, and that is unfair.”

Bridgette Craighead, Chalk it Up event organizer

Franklin County’s BLM supporters point out that there are other areas in the County with graffiti, as well as a Confederate flag hanging in a tunnel near the school board office, that they say sends an unfair message:

In the Facebook post, the Town of Rocky Mount responded to concerns from both sides, saying:

“Regardless of reason or background, the Town remains committed to working with anyone wanting to exercise their constitutional rights in a safe way that does no harm. Just as we took a stand regarding the second amendment, we take the first equally seriously.”

Town of Rocky Mount, Facebook

The town also addressed protests regarding the Confederate statue in front of the Courthouse, saying that it has no jurisdiction over the property or the statue, which belongs to the County.

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