The city of Mobile has dropped the charges against a man arrested for writing “Black Trans Lives Matter” on the base of a former Confederate monument last week, and now the Mobile Police Department is investigating why he was arrested in the first place.
Last week, 29-year-old Anthony Ford was arrested for “desecrating a venerated object” after using chalk to write on the base of a pedestal that used to house the statue of Confederate Adm.. Raphael Semmes before it was moved at the direction of Mayor Sandy Stimpson.
Ford was part of a group of protestors who wanted to see the remaining base of the statue removed and to bring attention to police brutality against African Americans. It was organized with the Mobile City Council’s permission near the Semmes statue’s former location on Royal Street.
The event was mostly peaceful, and other than a few expletives shouted at police nearby, it concluded without much incident other than Ford’s arrest. However, city officials now say the charge against Ford was improper because there was no longer a “venerated object” at the location to desecrate. Because the chalk writing didn’t cause any damage, a charge like criminal mischief wouldn’t be applicable either.
“With regard to defacing public property with any kind of permanency, there is a rule against that, but specifically to sidewalk chalk, that isn’t applicable,” City Attorney Ricardo Woods said Tuesday. “In this case, a magistrate said ‘I’m not going to swear out that warrant,’ so the charge was never pressed.”
Woods gave an explanation about the charge after Antonio Moore, one of the protest’s organizers, raised questions before the City Council. Moore said he eventually filed a formal complaint against the officers involved, though he said another officer initially tried to talk him out of it.
Public Safety Director James Barber later confirmed that an internal investigation has been launched into why the charges were originally brought. He also said Moore’s complaints about the arrest “are valid,” adding that the chalk washed off in the rain and the city spent no time or money removing it.
“We’ve already arranged to have a secondary meeting with the chief of police about it so we can resolve any of the other issues he may have, but the expression they were using wasn’t vulgar or offensive or threatening in any way,” Barber said. “There’s somewhat of a threshold there… if you’re writing things that are threatening or would shock the conscience, but that’s not what I saw in the pictures sent to me.”
It should be noted that the charge Ford was initially booked on, “desecrating a venerated object,” is the same charge brought against another man who previously spraypainted the Adm. Semmes statue while it was still standing on the original pedestal. However, unlike Bond’s alleged crime, Ford did not cause any lasting damage and his chalk writing occurred after the statue of Semmes had been moved.
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