Erasure of Black Lives Matter chalk art draws concern in Dover

Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, posted this photograph on his Facebook page regarding erased chalk art prior to an event at Legislative Mall on July 4. (Submitted photo)

DOVER – State Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, wants answers about why some Black Lives Matter-related chalk art was washed away last weekend. But he may have to wait longer than he hoped.

Due to Delaware’s ongoing state of emergency order, Rep. Lynn’s Freedom of Information Act request to the city is likely delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Lynn isn’t blaming the Dover Fire Department — which he described as “innocent third parties in this debacle” — for hosing down the art prior to the Back the Red White and Blue rally on July 4 at Legislative Mall, but has requested more information about the incident from the city of Dover.

Via his Sean Lynn for Delaware Facebook page Wednesday, the representative expressed First Amendment concerns about what he described as “the erasure of protected political speech by the City of Dover.” The chalk art had been created by BLM protesters during an event at Leg Mall on July 3, he said.

The Back the Red White and Blue Rally was held in the area the next day, when Mr. Lynn said an unknown entity began the process that led DFD to wash away the art.

Rep. Lynn claimed the action also involved the “hosing down of a portrait of George Floyd in front of the Law Enforcement Memorial (not near the site of the Back the Red White and Blue Rally).”

When reached for further comment Wednesday, Rep. Lynn said his Facebook post spoke for itself.

Rep. Lynn did say he’d made multiple requests with the city to learn more, and filed a FOIA request on Monday. The city responded via email just over two hours later with “Please be advised that due to restrictions on staff, facilities, and databases, we may be unable to process some requests until the State of Emergency is lifted.

“We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Rep. Lynn described his inquiry as “simple.”

In a statement issued Wednesday, Dover PD said it “received a call from the permit holders for the noon rally regarding profanity written in chalk in the area of Legislative Mall and on installed memorials. Organizers were concerned about the profane language, citing that there would be children and families present.

Rep. Sean Lynn

“A responding officer requested assistance from the Dover Fire Department to wash off the profane messages from the mall complex and the memorials that had been marked as well …”

Police said the fire department often assists in “wash down” requests in an array of situations but “this was obviously unique to everyone involved.

“The involved officers made a point to request that only profanity and memorials were cleared off, relying on language in the Graffiti and Disorderly Conduct statutes as grounds for the decision …

“No one should reasonably expect the volunteer firefighters to have any working knowledge of the legal issues in play when the permit holders lobbied them to clear off other areas containing alleged vulgarity.

“We suspect that they truly thought they were supporting the community’s interests and we, the police, could have and should have done a better job of guiding them at that point.

“Since the issue was brought to the Chief’s attention, he has directed all supervisors to refrain from requesting fire department support in future situations of similar nature.

“The Dover Police Department is, and shall continue to be, a neutral and apolitical law enforcement agency. Our actions are guided by the law and the application of appropriate discretion during enforcement.”

An attempt Wednesday to receive information from the city on the issued permit was unsuccessful.

According to Rep. Lynn, “Like it or not, the BLM chalk art is ‘political speech’, the highest and most protected kind of speech under the First Amendment.

“In order to curb political speech the Government must show that there is a significant and compelling interest in silencing that speech and that the governments actions were narrowly tailored in assessing same.”

Also, Rep. Lynn maintained, “The use of profanity in the BLM chalk art does not strip same of its status as protected political speech.”

In a Facebook video post promoting the July 4 gathering beforehand, City Councilman David Anderson described himself as “pleased to be one of the originators and co-sponsors of the event, along with Stand Up Delaware and some friends who are members of the Delaware Veterans Coalition.”

Delaware Veterans Coalition President Dave Skocik said he emceed the event as an individual veteran and his organization was not officially involved.

Mr. Anderson said he paid $25 for a permit and other event expenses as an private citizen.

Regarding the chalk art erasure, Mr. Anderson said “I have no firsthand knowledge of who raised this matter but I don’t have a problem with it.”

According to Rep. Lynn, “It is unclear whether the Back the Red White and Blue rally was sponsored by the city itself.

“It has the appearance of an official event given its organization and sponsorship by Councilman Anderson, together with the mayor of the city speaking at same.”

David Anderson

On Wednesday, Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen said that while the gathering received a permit from the city, the city did not sponsor the event. He referred questions to Dover PD and Dover FD.

He said he had been approached by a person asking questions about a chalk erasure, but knew little of the series of events.

The mayor said he spoke at the event for around two minutes or so, describing his remarks as “not political but celebratory while fulfilling my responsibilities as a mayor as I do for a number of groups across the city.”

Said Mr. Anderson, “Contrary to Rep. Lynn’s assertion (the art) was not washed away except for a very small portion.

“He asserted that I had to have known. Well I did not even know it happened until he pointed it out because 95% was still there.

“We had taken pictures Friday and pictures again Sunday. I did a Facebook Live Monday on my Facebook page @davidandersonfordover .

“No worries, the state property was still defaced or alternatively decorated. …”

Also, Mr. Anderson said, “It is chalk art. There is no expectation of permanence. According to city code pretending there is any expectation of permanence to hosting graffiti is wrong …”

Spokesman Deputy Fire Chief Michael O’Connor said Dover FD had no comment “at this time” and referred all further questions back to the mayor’s office.