On Monday, October 30, a group of pro-life students from Virginia, including Christendom College and George Mason University, were sidewalk chalking and peacefully protesting outside of the Falls Church Healthcare Center, an abortion facility. Someone called the police, most likely the abortion facility, on the students.The officer told the group, that they were not allowed to chalk on the sidewalks, per the city ordinance.
At the beginning of the conversation, the officer compares the student’s sidewalk chalking to chalking on city hall property, which he said the city forbids. Chalking on sidewalks outside of city hall are covered by the same laws governing public sidewalks. The officer claims that because it is “city property” chalking is not allowed. When asked for the ordinance, the officer claims it is under “defacing public property,” under either the Virginia state code or the city ordinance. The officer did not have the policy on him, nor know the city website. Seconds later, the officer contradicts himself, saying there is ‘not a specific statute,’ but that it’s because it is city property.
A community member points out that ‘kids chalk on the sidewalks’ to which the officer says the city has decided not to allow chalking, bringing up city property again. When pressed again for the ordinance, the officer says it’s in ‘the city code.’ He then asks why the students want to chalk, to which a group member replies it is to reach out and offer help to abortion workers who may want to stop working at the abortion facility. The officer then brings up that because it is political and pushes a certain agenda, as opposed to a kid chalking on the ground, that it is different, according to what he was told is the ordinance.
The conversation ends with the group members agreeing to stop chalking, although they stayed and prayed.
Here’s the issue: the police officer makes several statements which contradict the city’s case against chalking. He explains that chalking political messages are different than kids chalking on a sidewalk, according to the city. In a case titled Ballentine vs. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, a federal court ruled that the plaintiffs had their free speech rights violated, when they were stopped after chalking perceived anti-police statements outside of the Las Vegas Police Department. The judge in that case agreed with the plaintiffs argument that the police did not erase chalkings from children, undermining the police department’s claims that they erased all chalking for similar reasons as cited by the Falls Church police officer.
According to the Falls Church ordinances on defacement of public property, graffiti is prohibited, but “This section shall not be construed to prohibit temporary, easily removable chalk or other water-soluble markings on streets, sidewalks or other paved surfaces which are used in connection with traditional children’s activities, such as drawings or bases for kickball, handball, hopscotch and the like or to prohibit markings.” Meaning that the city has the same unconstitutional city code as Las Vegas had struck down.
Students for Life of America is requesting clarification from the Falls Church Police Department.