Detained for Chalk

an open letter to the Boston College community.

On the morning of March 16th, I was detained by the Boston College Police Department for writing messages in washable sidewalk chalk. That night, I had committed the unspeakable crime of writing “black lives matter,” “Boston College doesn’t have an LGBTQ resource center,” and, “pay your workers,” in washable, children’s, sidewalk chalk.

I was stopped by five officers in three cars, all of whom suggested I would be suspended or expelled for my “crime.” They told me I would be held responsible for all of the chalking that had been done in the prior weeks (a lie), and even went as far as to tell me the next college I apply to (after my inevitable expulsion) would never accept a “criminal”. They kept me outside in 29 degree weather for half an hour, put me in the back of a cruiser, read me my rights, and told me to write a confession. After being Mirandized, I asked if I was under arrest. The officer answered, “you are being detained.” This directly contradicts John King’s later and laughable claim that I was“free to go at any time.”

Before I was taken to the station, however, I was made to show the officers the “tagging” (again, washable sidewalk chalk) I had seen that night. Over the course of this show-and-tell, the officers repeatedly argued with me about the messages — claiming that Boston College does indeed have a LGBTQ resource center and that private prisons don’t exist — until we arrived at the final message I had written.

It read, “Black Lives Matter.” On seeing this, both officers audibly chuckled, one said “psh, ALL lives matter,” and the other took almost a dozen pictures. He exclaimed, “they are going to love this back at the station.” And to that station, I was promptly driven.

Once there I met with the Sergeant on duty, who told me he could put me under arrest and hold me overnight for “tagging in the presence of an officer.” The police report (hand copied here), shows this to be a lie, as no officer reported seeing active chalking at any time. Finally, after two hours, I was released from BCPD’s office on campus, fully believing that I could be charged, suspended, or expelled.

Two weeks later, I received notice from the Dean’s Office saying I would be disciplined under code of conduct violation 4.5.1, aka “Deliberate or malicious damage/destruction of property.” This accusation is laughably absurd. Not only did I not damage property, I intentionally used a medium which would cause the least “damage” possible. So, in other words, I indeliberately and unmaliciously did not damage or destroy property.

Not only that, but it remains unclear whether chalking really is against the rules for individual students. In order to access the rule supposedly prohibiting chalking, you have to go to the Office of Student Involvement homepage, navigate to student organizations tab, then to event planning, and then to posting policy. Once you’re finally there, you are met with the statement, “ Sidewalk chalk is not permitted anywhere on campus.” It is more than absurd to expect students to find and follow such an obscure regulation.

Before a recent change in policy, chalking was a mainstay of the Boston College experience. At one point, For Boston made a chalk mural stretching from the reservoir to the steps of Mac. How many hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property damage did that cause? Even after that change, Arts Fest has consistently used chalk in their events. And hilariously — nine days after my detainment, Boston College advertised an event at the McMullen Museum which included, you guessed it, sidewalk chalking.

As of today, and after a pointless hearing process, I received my sanction: an administrative warning and a fine of $50. To review, I broke no rules, the rules I was accused of breaking are selectively enforced, and as a reward for all of that, I was intimidated, detained, and made witness to the tragically unsurprising white supremacy of BCPD.

To be clear, I have no desire to be made a martyr. I am white, male, and fiscally stable. While detained, there was no real risk of police brutality, and in my disciplinary hearing, even the worst possible outcomes would not have ruined my life. Instead, take this letter as a warning — if you stand against Leahy’s administration, they will throw all legality, ethics, and dignity out of the window in order to suppress your voice. Take this letter as a testament to the power of activism — that children’s sidewalk chalk can mobilize the entire Boston College police force in opposition. And more than anything, take this letter as proof — that no person should feel safe on this campus until our police, our administration, and our community are all radically reformed.

In Solidarity,

Matthew Barad

‘MCAS 19

Writer, Activist, Leftist.

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