Yet another so-called “road mural” story has surfaced in New York City, this time out on Staten Island in the town of New Dorp (population 28,200). But this one doesn’t involve any Black Lives Matter sloganeering or even any words or letters at all. In fact, one could reasonably argue that the “mural” really isn’t even a picture. It was a line created in blue paint and it ran in front of the local police precinct station. The artist in question, Scott LoBaido, said he painted the thin blue line to show “love and respect for the people who protect this community.”
Seems like a nice gesture, right? Not according to the State Department of Transportation. They’ve sent a Cease and Desist order to LoBaido, ordering him to remove the paint. Anyone care to guess how they heard about it and why they made that decision? (CBS 2 New York)
A Staten Island artist has been ordered to remove a blue line he painted in support of the NYPD.
Artist and activist Scott LoBaido painted the blue line along a divider outside the 122nd Precinct stationhouse in New Dorp last week.
But the DOT sent him a cease-and-desist letter, saying the line has to go and that he had not been authorized to paint it.
This brief video report from CBS 2 News in New York shows the allegedly unauthorized paint job and introduces you to the artist.
LoBaido is making a couple of arguments against this order and there are obviously some other questions to tackle here. His first point deals with the question of selective enforcement. As he notes, Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t bother getting a permit before helping to paint a gigantic Black Lives Matter mural down the middle of Fifth Avenue. And that one arguably blurs the literal lines indicating lanes and traffic flow, so the DOT could have taken an interest in it. Who alerted the Department of Transporation to investigate this alleged violation?
Another question is whether or not the DOT even has jurisdiction over the matter. The BLM mural was right in the middle of a major street in the center of the city, so obviously they would have something to say about it. But LoBaido’s blue line isn’t on the street. It’s on the thin, paved median running down the center. Not only isn’t that technically a street, but it’s also not even really useful as a sidewalk. It’s barely two feet across and broken up with many traffic signs. (The signs are not at all obscured by the blue line, which is only present on the pavement.)
Even if we ignore all of those issues, there’s one other glaring problem with this story. Who in the world would object to this line of blue paint on a median enough to bother the DOT about it? BLM remains a somewhat divisive issue as we’ve seen in poll after poll, so some people might object to those words being plastered on the road. But this display doesn’t even have any words. It’s a line. There are already lines on the actual road.
While there’s been no comment coming out of City Hall, I would argue that one potential suspect is Bill de Blasio himself. He hasn’t exactly been popular with the NYPD over the course of his tenure in office. He was also among the first to jump on the bandwagon for defunding the police and criticizing them. It’s certainly not inconceivable that he could have gotten wind of this artist’s creation and picked up the phone to call either the Governor or the DOT directly. Perhaps someone could ask him about that at his next press conference.
In any event, this is yet another bit of fallout from the decision to turn our streets (and now walkways, apparently) into forums for public speech. But it’s not a truly equal forum for all if you have elected officials deciding which messages are acceptable and which aren’t, assuming the displays don’t violate public decency rules. The government needs to decide whether or not everyone gets to paint their messages on the roads or nobody does. And if the answer is the latter, then all of these street murals need to be removed.