City of Selah repeatedly erases children’s Black Lives Matter chalk art, labels it graffiti

After the third time, community members helped recreate it on a larger scale

SELAH, Wash. — Amid controversy over Selah city officials’ remarks about the Black Lives Matter movement, one resident decided to make a difference in his own way: chalk art.

Gabriel Fabian, 20, took to the street outside his home last week with chalk in hand, writing “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe.”Fabian 1

Also included was a list of names: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.

“It actually started at my house, just simple,” Fabian said. “I had seen a video where some girls did it on their driveway … “I decided to see how [people] would react in my city.”

Fabian 3

 

Within days, it was gone: washed away by city workers.

Fabian 2“At first, I was panicking because all my hard work was gone,” Fabian said.

 

Resolved in his determination to get the message out, Fabian — along with his family, neighbors and friends — recreated the chalk art Saturday, adding “Don’t shoot,” “No justice, no peace,” “unity” and “equality.”

Fabian 4

“We got a few more people to come out the second time; a lot of kids showed up and we did it again,” Fabian said. “That Monday, once they clocked in, they came over and erased it again.”

Still determined, Fabian worked to recreate the message for a third time on Wednesday. This time, it was up only 15 hours before it was washed away by city workers.

Fabian 5“I did it again. They came and erased it at my house again,” Fabian said. “This is mainly about ending racism. Ending racism shouldn’t be a debate.”

Fabian said the chalk art was created to promote racial equality and voice support for the Black Lives Matter movement, but city officials said they saw it differently.

City of Selah officials say chalk art is actually graffiti, regardless of the message behind it

Fabian 6“They call it art; it actually is graffiti,” city administrator Donald Wayman said. “We’re pretty aggressive here at the City of Selah about eradicating graffiti, no matter what the message is.”

Wayman said the chalk messages were brought to the city’s attention after local residents complained to officials.  He declined to provide further information about the complaints, saying that whomever contacted the city to complain wished to remain anonymous.

According to the city’s municipal code, it’s illegal for anyone to create graffiti, which it defines as, “any unauthorized inscription, figure, etching or mark of any type that is written, marked, etched, scratched, sprayed, drawn, painted, or engraved on or otherwise affixed to any surface of public or private property.”

The code lists various types of implements used to create graffiti, including, “an aerosol paint container, a broad-tipped marker, gum label, paint stick or graffiti stick, etching equipment or paintbrush.”

Wayman said while chalk is not specifically mentioned in the code, using it to create marks of any kind on streets owned by the city still falls under the definition of graffiti.

“We don’t differentiate what the material is; if it marks up or alters the appearance of the street, we’re going to clean it up,” Wayman said.

When asked if the code would then apply to any use of chalk on city streets, no matter what size or shape, Wayman elaborated.

“Well, let’s put a reasonable scenario on this: we’re not going to go out and erase every hopscotch square on a sidewalk, for instance,” Wayman said.

The difference in the Black Lives Matter chalk case, Wayman said, is that the city received complaints from the neighborhood.

“It was a message and I think that that probably struck a nerve with some folks, but it didn’t really matter what the message was,” Wayman said. “If it said ‘God Bless America,’ ‘Yay! Yay! Constitution,’ or’ Make America Great Again,’ it would get erased just as quickly.”

Wayman said he keeps a graffiti eradication kit in his city car and will often stop to clean graffiti up himself.

“We’re very aggressive in eradicating graffiti in the City of Selah for obvious reasons,” Wayman said. “We ascribe to the ‘broken windows’ theory, that if you allow a little bit of it, you’re gonna get a lot of it.”

Wayman said the city has received some angry responses to their clean-up effort, but that he wants people to understand that the removal was not about the message, just about the graffiti.

“They have freedom of speech, of course, we don’t dispute that,” Wayman said. “They have the freedom to mark up their own driveway as much as they like, but remember, this is a public thoroughfare … It is not their canvas.”

Wayman said the use of chalk on city property could be permitted if someone went to the Selah City Council to request it, public comment was heard and council members agreed to create a resolution for a city-sponsored art event.

However, he said in the past five years he’s worked in Selah, the city has not had such an event.

“We’re not trying to pick winners or losers, we’re simply saying, ‘Don’t do it. We’re going to erase it if it comes up,'” Wayman said. “We don’t believe city property is the appropriate place for expressing your artistic tendencies or your political speech.” 

Community responds by creating Black Lives Matter chalk art on a larger scale

Frustrated with the city’s response, Fabian’s family reached out to the Selah School District, which agreed to allow residents to create chalk art in the middle school parking lot.

“Although this is not a district sponsored event, the Selah School District 100 percent supports racial equality,” the school district said in a Facebook post.

District officials said in discussions with the event’s organizers, they clarified that it was not an organized Black Lives Matter gathering, but rather a way for families and children to support racial equality through art and messages.

“The district is a public space and many groups over the years, including political party caucuses and religious groups, have used school facilities,” the district said. “It is unfortunate that the message of racial equality is getting lost in semantics during this difficult time in our country.”

The Selah School District would like to address the chalk art event taking place this afternoon in the middle school…

Posted by Selah School District on Thursday, June 18, 2020

Fabian organized a gathering of more than 100 people to recreate his family’s chalk art on a larger scale. A majority of the attendees wore face masks, including Selah resident Bill Callahan.

“I’m out here in support of the effort to just bring people together, to remind everyone that until Black Lives Matter, all lives can’t matter,” Callahan said. “Look at how many people have come together. Look at all the beautiful artwork. Look at all the people communing and talking about these important issues.”

The largest message overall read, “Racial Equality: We Care About Black Lives Matter.” The next largest read, “All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter.”

“No matter if they wipe out the chalk tomorrow or the next day, we’re just gonna keep coming back,” Callahan said. “This message isn’t going away.”

Callahan said he and other attendees are trying to show people that the Selah community values diversity and that everyone is welcome.

“There have been recent things in the press and in the community where there’s prejudice and people putting out a message — especially from our city officials, that just doesn’t speak to the amazing diversity that we all value as citizens here in the community.

Community controversy over Selah officials’ remarks about BLM

The City of Selah has recently faced controversy over remarks made by Wayman about the Black Lives Matter movement following a protest march in Selah, which were reiterated by a council member in a letter published Tuesday in defense of Wayman’s remarks.

In the letter, council member Kevin Wickenhagen restates Wayman’s opinions regarding Black Lives Matter, including that the march sounded like “Communist indoctrination” and that BLM is “based on neo-Marxism.” Wickenhagen also supplied information to support the statements made by Wayman.

Wickenhagen said that he’d done research on the Black Lives Matter movement following citizen concern about Wayman’s statements and wanted to address the main complaints.

“It is my belief that some people participating in the march and supporting the march are without an understanding of the underlying principles of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Wickenhagen said in the letter.

Wickenhagen said he endeavors to view race based on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., referencing his infamous quote: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

He further states:

“But that attitude no longer seems to fit in with the current political climate. We are told that we must end racism, but the very group that calls for it, calls special attention to it. We are told we must see everyone the same, but ‘All Lives Matter’ is insensitive. The same groups that call for the end of racism, request special resources for minority programs. It is a time where stating you’re not racist is immediately called into question and no amount of evidence seems to change minds, based on the race of the person saying it.”

Wickenhagen said he applauds protesters for marching for something they believe in and thanks those that voiced their concerns about Wayman’s comments to the city.

“However, the fact that Mr. Wayman said some things others didn’t like shouldn’t disqualify him from his duties,” Wickenhagen said in the letter. “That would be a very slippery slope. Is that really what you want in your government, voiceless souls that move in the direction of the loudest voices?”

In the letter, Wickenhagen said he will not ask Wayman to apologize for expressing his views in a private conversation, just as he will not ask citizens to apologize for expressing their views about Wayman.

Wickenhagen’s full letter can be found here.

When asked about his previous comments, Wayman told KAPP-KVEW: “My personal opinion about the Black Lives Matter movement is my opinion only; it doesn’t represent the city. I will, of course, stand by my opinion but it does not represent the city.”

Mayor Sherry Raymond subsequently released a proclamation Wednesday — “in regards to recent political rallie” — in which she emphasized that all residents have the right to lawfully engage in free speech.

“This includes rally attendees and it also includes Mr. Wayman,” Raymond said in the proclamation.

Raymond said she was thankful and proud that the recent events had been peaceful, in contrast to other cities nationwide. She said the city does not discriminate against political rallies based on their beliefs and that Wayman had previously instructed city employees that “viewpoint discrimination must never occur.”

“Mr. Wayman continues to have my full support as our city administrator,” Raymond said. “His personal political views are his own. He is entitled to his opinions, no different than how each rally attendee is entitled to his or her own opinions.”

Near the end of her proclamation, Raymond further stated:

“Do the lives of black people matter? Of course they do! I believe this, Mr. Wayman believes it, and so do all sensible people. No rational debate is possible on the point.  Human life is sacred, across all races and all ethnicities. Skin color is not, and should never be, the determinative factor. I call on all residents to seek to lessen tensions while still advocating for your personal beliefs. The world needs more unity, not more division. Selah is a great city and residential area. Political debates will continue on and we will continue to strive for the greater good.”

Raymond’s full proclamation can be found here.

The city announced Friday that it would be holding a special city council meeting on June 24, “to evaluate complaints brought against and review the performance of a public employee.” Further information on the complaints or identity of the employee were not available Friday evening.