Writer and journalist Jill Nelson, arrested for writing “Trump = Plague” on a boarded-up storefront in Manhattan (courtesy of Jill Nelson)

Last month, Jill Nelson, an award-winning writer and journalist, was arrested by NYPD officers for scribbling “Trump=Plague” on a boarded-up storefront near her house in Riverside Drive in Manhattan. The story was first reported by the local publication the West Side Rag.

On April 16, the 67-year-old writer left her house to run a few errands in the neighborhood. On her way to the supermarket, she passed by a storefront boarded with green plywood on Broadway and 162nd Street. It was there that she spontaneously inscribed her message of protest in pink chalk.

Within seconds, two NYPD cars arrived at the scene, and four officers stormed at Nelson to arrest her.

“They cuffed and searched me,” Nelson told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation. “They were offensive and rough.”

According to Nelson, the officers asked her repeatedly if she possessed any weapons. Shocked, she replied, “Are you kidding? No, my weapons are words.”

“It was an awful, abusive and petty experience,” Nelson said.

Nelson was taken to the 33rd Precinct around 1pm and was kept in a cell for more than five hours. She was charged with making graffiti, a class A misdemeanor.

“A female officer searched me again and patted me down,” Nelson said. “They itemized what I had in my pocket, took my fingerprints, and took mugshots.”

Nelson, who didn’t have her ID with her, asked to call her husband Flores Forbes, an associate vice president for community affairs at Columbia University, who was at home. Nelson was asking her husband to find her ID so that the police could go pick it up, but she says an officer abruptly ended the phone conversation after just a few seconds. “They cut me off before I could tell my husband what precinct I’m at,” she said.

The NYPD has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s inquiry on Nelson’s arrest and declined to provide details by phone.

“It was an awful, abusive, and petty experience,” Nelson continued. “I frankly feel, as an African American woman and a person of color, that it’s open season on us in every way. From the disproportionate number of people who are dying of COVID-19, people with the worst healthcare, people who are doing the most vulnerable jobs, to young people beaten down for allegedly not social distancing.”

Nelson was released after a local official intervened. She was given a desk appearance ticket for August 14. She said that one of the officers threatened her by saying, “If you don’t show up, we’ll come to your house and arrest you.”

According to the Rag, the NYPD said that the complaint was “sealed,” although Nelson said that her appearance ticket remains valid.

Nelson demands an apology from NYPD, and that the force cancels her desk appearance ticket and expunging her record. She also necessitates speaking with the commanding officer about “how this happened and how they will proceed in the future so it doesn’t happen again.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

43 replies on “Journalist Arrested in Manhattan for Writing “Trump=Plague” in Chalk”

  1. Well, if she had the desire to do it again I hope she gets all her friends together and make it a mass event. I’ll go, chalk in hand. The NYPD is so full of crap and so overloaded with testosterone. The mayor and police chief just shrug. It’s disgusting.

    1. she deserve it i am sorry don’t care about the age or race he the president and he didn’t start this but he getting shit about go to China and have them pay for all us being out without jobs. it there fault

      1. Leave it to a Trump supporter to claim they’re a patriot while saying a non-violent protester harrassed by the state “deserved it”. Meanwhile, anti-quarantine protesters march into statehouses brandishing weapons and screaming in the cops’ faces, and the police say they’re “not breaking any rules”. It doesn’t take a genius to identify the double standard, just someone who isn’t looking to be lied to.

        1. In Linda’s defense, her spelling is on a par or slightly better than Trumps…

      2. Bless your heart…I would slap the stupid out of you but then, there wouldn’t be anything left

      3. a) do you speak English? No evidence of it in your post. b) get your head out of FAUX Spew.

    2. She’s just another aggrieved hack playing on the misguided sympathies of ignorant, self-important bubble people like you who would be the first to call a NYPD cop if her poodle dumped in front of their apartment building. Have you ever been a first-responder, or have you always confined your community activism to running your mouth anonymously? I was an EMT for years. Now I volunteer for a food pantry. What do you do, ace? Go ahead. Wave your chalk! Dazzle us with your ferocity! And, no, ace… I am not a Trump supporter. I just loathe totally useless lemmings like you.

      1. Liar …you are a tRUMP sick @$$…supporter..enjoy your disinfectant juice injections.

        1. Having to decide between Trump and Hillary in 2016 was like having to decide between hemorrhoids or shingles. I controlled my gag reflex and pulled the lever for Hillary. But, thanks for sharing!

        2. I certainly AM a Trump supporter. What I will enjoy is the satisfaction of listening to you maggots screaming at the sky on November 4 when you admit to yourself that your communist dreams have beeen thwarted again through the overwhelming re-election of President Trump!


          1. Clearly, facts and you gave no relationship. Nor do have one with any sense of decency.

            Your repeatedly trolling a site dedicated to art, artists and their rigorous, peaceful free inquiry of truth, while doing nothing other than maintaining and promoting a hermetically sealed, aggressive, ANTI art and artist ideology is sign of real mental illness. Get some help.

          2. You’re making the assumption you are still going to be alive…or that he’s going to be alive…tell you what,keep going to his rallies when they start again and go to the demonstrations and restaurants and any other crowded place…don’t wear a mask just like der fuhrer donnie boy, or don’t you believe in him enough to do that?

        1. I work with real journalists st Thomson Reuters. Ever hear of it? My street creds in the inner city as an EMT would make anonymous little suburbanites like you look like the ineffective bed wetters you really are. Black people just aren’t exotic to me. But, keep pretending you’re in “solidarity” with people you really have no respect for. If you’re black, however, try a new script. After living in the 88th precinct when crack hit the streets, minstrel shows like yours really bore me. Get it?

  2. Furious. Why had I not read in NY Times? Only here and NBC–something seriously out of whack.

  3. Meanwhile Down in Georgia it took 74 days for the cops to make an arrest of a Black man being Hunted down and shot to death by 2 white Terrorist’s GTFOOH.

  4. This doesn’t surprise me as most police seem to be pro Trump, as mentioned before it’s disturbing that this is one of the the only places I’ve seen this incident mentioned and well after it happened . De Blasio with his shrugging off of the racist Covid social distancing police harassment even when clearly captured on video and posted on Facebook and other places , dismissing it as maintaining law and order is really appalling, De Blasio has become Giuliani.

    1. Interesting you identify De Blasio as the real racist and incompetent mayor, yet villify President Trump. Remarkable brainwashing you’ve had.

  5. “She also necessitates speaking with the commanding officer”

    Doesn’t Hyperallergic have any editors around to keep the kidz from writing this terrible? Gawd.

      1. More deflection. Blame everything on Trump. You won’t have to think. You’ll be in your comfort zone.

  6. As a lifelong Upper West Sider I was deeply troubled by what happened to Ms. Nelson. In a city on lockdown for a deadly virus the police took a 67 year old woman and arrested and imprisoned her for writing on a boarded up store with chalk! There are people in NYC who write with chalk all over the sidewalks in clear view of the police. They are not arrested. Ms. Nelson was arrested because of her anti-Trump slogan on a piece of wood. If she had written instead I Hate De Blasio the cops would never even have stopped. Her treatment also had to do with race. The NYPD frequently politicizes and with bias metes out their treatment of citizens. If Ms. Nelson had been white the police likely would have kept going. I have witnessed this behavior by the police first hand. I think Ms. Nelson should immediately have her record cleared and an apology from the police. If not she should take legal action. I hope she does not contract Covid-19 as a result of this overreaction and abuse by the police.

  7. Use the early link to the original excellent “West Side Rag” piece, where you’ll find a photo of the Scene of the Crime – ti see that the ‘boarding-up’ looks much more like the big painted-plywood expanse of a construction fence than like the kind of modest storefront that comes to mind.
    ¶Good for her (and “Hyperallergic,” “WSR,” and others) for getting her story out to us! And these cops should really be made aware that her husband is a rather well-known former Panther – so you might say they came off pretty lucky…this time.

    1. “And these cops should really be made aware that her husband is a rather well-known former Panther – so you might say they came off pretty lucky…this time.”

      Is that a threat?

  8. What she did was wrong period. She set an example that was wrong. She was not arrested for being a black woman, she was arrested for vandalism. So tired of pleading poor black woman. They would have done the same thing to a while woman. Again what she did was wrong, just accept it!

    1. Vandalism with chalk? Come on. It was targeted, any cop with a human heart wouldn’t have put this woman through this.

        1. That’s the stupidest thing to say or think, this is an art blog. Not a personal attack, but art doesn’t have time for that. Also, most cops are mostly racist, psychotic brutes.

  9. I’m sorry to hear that she was treated roughly by the NYPD.
    No call for that. Columbia is the journalism program where the vast majority of the major news businesses get their journalists.
    She was just vandalizing someone’s property with the big media headline that we will be saturated with for the upcoming election cycle. Journalism = Lies will be the opposition platform. Enjoy the silly season everybody!
    BTW: Ms Nelson’s husband, Mr Flores, was Huey Newton’s Assistant Chief of Staff and is now at Columbia.

  10. “I frankly feel, as an African American woman and a person of color, that it’s open season on us in every way. From the disproportionate number of people who are dying of COVID-19…..”

    Really? Can we stop with this virus being labeled like it’s a racist plague unleashed to kill off black and brown people?

    What happened to her – if these are indeed all the facts – was unacceptable. She certainly has the right to protest, though perhaps next time do so without vandalizing the property of others. Again, not saying she should have been treated in that way, but maybe put a sign in the window of her home, or create shirts for her and others to wear, etc.

  11. This would be newsworthy if she were engaged in an act of journalism at the time of her arrest.. she wasn’t. She was allegedly committing the crime for which she was arrested and charged. The fact that she is a journalist isn’t even relevant to the story. Except as a cheap gambit for a click-bait headline.

    For the record, I agree with what she wrote. I disagree with her choice to write it in graffiti, and I disagree with the way this website is spinning it falsely as a story about journalism. Shame on you. This is what tarnishes the profession of journalism.

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