**UPDATE** The original story stated that the Angle Bridge was closed by the town during the Chalk it Up event. However, according to Mayor Steven Angle, at no time was the bridge closed just one lane was closed beyond the intersection of North Main Street and Pell Avenue. The staff regrets the error.
Motorists who had driven across Angle Bridge near Pell Avenue in Rocky Mount earlier this week were able to see some colorful messages such as “Be the change,” “Love your neighbor,” and “When hate is loud, love must be louder.”
Those messages, which were part of a Black Lives Matter demonstration, were written on the concrete barrier on the bridge and along North Main Street near The Hub restaurant with permission from the town, according to Town Manager James Erivn.
“It is graffiti by definition, but in many ways a form of speech,” Ervin said.
The town released a statement on social media Wednesday after the messages had been cleaned from the walls of the bridge saying the while the town is striving to allow “fair and open use of public spaces,” it doesn’t mean “posters, chalk or other signs put up as part of a protest are permanent.
“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,” the statement read.
After having the messages up for three days, and receiving several calls, the town cleared the chalk off the walls and street.
“That is our rule — we don’t allow graffiti to remain as it encourages more. So we have tried to strike a balance recognizing that the markings are a type of free speech that is tied to an ongoing national issue but also recognizing our need to enforce our rules,” the statement said.
Organizers of the Chalk it Up event are unhappy with their messages being removed.
“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,” said Bridgette Craighead. “I did not expect them to pressure wash it off when there has been racist graffiti on several bridges that has been there for years. They felt that three days (72 hours) was enough time for us to get the message across and that is unfair.”
No permits are required to protest inside town limits, unlike the county, which does have a permit process. Nonetheless, organizers for the Chalk it Up event obtained permission from the town, and a lane of traffic on North Main Street was closed during the event.
Local demonstrations began after the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed during a police arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, used his knee to kneel on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying facedown on the street.
Protests have taken place at the Farmers’ Market in Rocky Mount, which is also now being utilized for Harvester Outdoors shows. Ervin said the market remains an option for protesters.
“The Harvester items are arranged to still make it a viable place to demonstrate,” he said.
Demonstrations have also taken place in front of the Franklin County Courthouse, which faces controversy for the Confederate statue that stands on its lawn. In June, nearly 30 speakers went before the Franklin County Board of Supervisors, with many of them calling for the statue to be removed.
It was also an issue the town addressed in its statement by pointing out that the town has no jurisdiction over the statue. Franklin County controls the statue and the site it is on.
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