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

“I frankly feel, as an African American woman and a person of color, that it’s open season on us in every way,” says Jill Nelson, a 67-year-old writer who was kept in a cell for more than five hours.

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.”

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