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There is a fundamentalist group that writes Bible verses in chalk on the streets of Bangor, often messages about wicked, filthy sinners who will be murdered and tortured unless they love God. In my experience dealing with this group, I have learned these messages are targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
I despise fearmongering. It is not OK to broadcast unfounded terror, even if someone uses Bible verses to do it. Adding in rhetoric about love does not make it any more acceptable. For four years, I have been trying to stand up to this bullying by erasing these verses with water and a broom whenever I find them.
This group absolutely has a First Amendment right to write these terrible things, but that does not mean what they have to say has any value, or that anyone must pay attention. It is absolutely my right to erase these writings. I am not a government entity censoring them or preventing them from expressing their views. I am a private citizen expressing myself with a peaceful response.
On the night of Aug. 7, I was erasing such messages from West Market Square. When I left West Market Square (applauded by some outside diners), I discovered the group had moved to Pickering Square to continue writing verses. I began erasing these when two police officers approached me. They gave me a written no-trespass warning, saying I would be arrested if I returned to Pickering Square within a year. I asked the officers why I was given this warning for quietly erasing chalk while the people writing hateful messages such as “repent or perish” were not given the same treatment, but my question was not answered.
One of the officers signed his name as the “property owner.” Pickering Square is publicly owned, a protected space of free speech and assembly. No policeman infringing the First Amendment can claim it as their own.
I took video of this encounter with Bangor Police, and when I posted it online many were upset, particularly the LGBTQ+ community who felt threatened because my voice of tolerance was being stifled. Sean Faircloth, among many others, asked the police to reconsider the no-trespass order. Even Maine’s attorney general, in an Aug. 9 email, asked for more reason for this order beyond the erasing of chalk.
These polite inquiries from people with credibility on First Amendment issues were largely ignored, and instead there was a press release on Aug. 10 and a video conference with the Downtown Bangor Partnership, both of which wrongly placed blame on me, claiming I was harassing and confrontational.
The city rescinded the no-trespass order on Aug. 14, yet they have refused to apologize.
This incident has received a lot of attention as a culture of organized hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community has been exposed. This community does not feel welcome or secure after my First Amendment rights have been stymied and false negative statements made about me.
Incidents like this need to be publicly renounced by elected leaders. That is why I am seeking an apology. Each Bangor city councilor is free to publicly support an apology before the council meets on Sept. 14. During that meeting, there will be a public comment portion where citizens upset by the lack of an apology may also speak up.
Scott Hall of Bangor volunteers with several local organizations including the Health Equity Alliance.