A Bangor man who for years has erased chalk messages left downtown by members of a local church received a criminal trespass order Friday evening as he cleaned up the group’s messages in Pickering Square.
The church’s members held signs declaring homosexuality an abomination at the 2017 Bangor Pride festival, and their chalk messages often tell people to repent for their sins. Scott Hall has erased the messages for years — and the city says that both chalking on sidewalks and removing the messages are allowed — so the Bangor Police Department’s criminal trespass order against him prompted questions over the weekend about what made the circumstances different on Friday.
Over the weekend, someone wrote in chalk outside Bangor City Hall, “Bangor [PD] History has its eyes on you,” referencing a lyric from the musical “Hamilton.”
Bangor police said Monday that two men — one writing the chalk messages and another erasing them — were arguing that night, which prompted two calls to the department. Officers Jarid Leonard and Ryan Jones arrived shortly after.
The officers informed both men that their actions were protected speech, Bangor Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Wade Betters said, and that they were only responding to the dispute. One of the men left the scene, while the other — whom the police didn’t identify — was issued the criminal trespass order after refusing to leave the area, Betters said.
Hall provided the Bangor Daily News with a copy of the criminal trespass order barring him from entering Pickering Square for a year.
Hall said that he began following members of the Mansion Church at around 8 p.m. Friday as they wrote Bible verses and other religious messages in chalk on the sidewalks of West Market Square and Pickering Square in downtown Bangor.
Hall, who posted a video on YouTube showing much of the encounter, was dumping water on and brushing the chalk messages away when two Bangor police officers told him to stop.
“I can’t leave this hate speech here. I’m sorry. It’s about drowning and burning,” Hall can be heard saying in the video, before the criminal trespass order was issued.
He disputed the police department’s account of events on Monday, saying he never raised his voice at the church pastor, Valance Bohm, who leads the sidewalk chalk effort.
“There would be no way for one of us to be cooperative and the other to not be if I was the only one told to leave,” he said. “I did not escalate the situation. I only continued to erase chalk and asked questions as to why I was being ordered to leave.”
The Rev. Terry Dinkins of the Mansion Church confirmed that it was members of his church who were out chalking the sidewalks.
Dinkins said the chalking is an effort to do evangelical outreach and interact with the community. While some of the chalk drawings contain less divisive Bible verses, others are more specifically about repenting, and say that people may “burn” or “drown” for their sins.
Dinkins said church members did not reach out to police on Friday while they were chalking.
“We did not call the police. We know Scott. We don’t want anything bad to happen to him, and we don’t want him to get in trouble,” Dinkins said.
In a 2016 BDN story, Hall said he considers the language the Mansion Church uses in its chalk messages to be hateful and cruel, especially toward Bangor’s LGBTQ+ community.
“I hate bullying, and I can’t stand the thought of the citizens of Bangor having to walk by that kind of cruel intolerance on public spaces,” Hall said Monday. “I try to get rid of it as soon as I can.”
Hall has been a longtime volunteer with Health Equity Alliance, a statewide organization that advocates for marginalized people in Maine with a special focus on the LGBTQ community, said the organization’s executive director, Kenney Miller. Health Equity Alliance also organizes Bangor’s annual Pride festival.
“The hate speech that Scott Hall endeavors to erase creates an environment that makes people feel unsafe — it is violence in its own right,” Miller said. “By intervening in Scott’s efforts to erase this hate speech, the Bangor Police Department sent the message that they passively and implicitly endorse this violence.”
Bangor City Solicitor Paul Nicklas declined to comment on Friday’s incident, but confirmed that the city has no prohibition on chalking or erasing chalk on city sidewalks.
“Where you could get into trouble is if you triggered some other law, such as disorderly conduct or harassing someone,” he said.
In the video, one of the Bangor police officers can be heard telling Hall that Mansion Church members didn’t receive citations for their chalking because they weren’t “creating any problems” and that they were “expressing their First Amendment rights.”
Hall said that Friday’s incident was the first time the police have spoken to him about his chalk erasing.
Later Friday evening, after police issued Hall the no-trespass order, several employees of Paddy Murphy’s and other downtown businesses went out into both West Market and Pickering squares to finish cleaning up the chalk, Paddy Murphy’s co-owner Rachel Dobbs said.