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Selah City Attorney defends removing ‘Black Lives Matter’ chalk paint from roads

An artist paints one of the large letters that read "Black Lives Matter" on a street near Cal Anderson Park. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A recent profile in The New York Times seemed to portray Selah, Wash., as having issues of racism after washing the phrase “Black Lives Matter” in chalk off the pavement.

Selah City Attorney Rob Case joined KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show to discuss the article and why the cleaning wasn’t a political act.

“People have their different political views, and that certainly includes newspapers. We knew this sort of article was forthcoming, and frankly, I’m not all that surprised at the slant that it offers,” he said.

As Case explained, it wasn’t the message that was the problem. It’s just that Selah simply does not allow anything to be written on public sidewalks and streets.

“We received multiple complaints from other citizens complaining that there’s drawings out there that are distracting to drivers. ‘And don’t you guys have a policy of taking those drawings down because aren’t those drawings in violation of the law?’ So we’ve been out there to clean it up multiple times,” he said.

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“It began with streets. Then when we started cleaning it up, it moved to sidewalks and even to our public buildings including a bunch of words that I’m not allowed to say here on the radio … Now it’s actually graduated into the use of aerosol spray chalk on a sidewalk, which for us to remove required not only pressure washing but also sandblasting, and then the application of a surface coat to our concrete sidewalk.”

Case says the city would do this regardless of what the message was, and that the removal should not be seen in a political light.

“Over the Fourth of July, our municipal workers stumbled upon, photographed, and then promptly removed a large chalk art display that was in honor of a fallen war soldier,” he said.

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“So the notion that we pick and choose based upon message is simply false. The city has had a policy for a number of years to not allow any graffiti or any chalk to stay up. When we find it or hear of it, we take it down, irrespective of what it might say and also irrespective of any supposed artistic quality.”

Unlike other cities, Case says they do not want to be picking and choosing which messages to erase based on the political content.

“We do not want to be like other municipalities that seem to be picking and choosing based upon content of message. We have a universal policy, and the reason we have a universal policy is the statute for malicious mischief in the third degree is likewise universal. It’s not content based.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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