U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman temporarily blocked police in Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday from enforcing the city’s ordinance against vandalism because of First Amendment concerns it censors free speech.
Pechman, a senior judge appointed by President Bill Clinton, said that the city’s ordinance was too vague and “overbroad,” leaving too much discretion to police about when to arrest vandals, and for what messages.
The Seattle Times reported:
The city code in question says someone who “intentionally damages the property of another” or “writes, paints, or draws any inscription, figure, or mark of any type on any public or private building or other structure or any real or personal property owned by any other person” is guilty of property destruction, which is typically referred to the city attorney to prosecute, if the value of the damage is less than $1,000.
Pechman wrote Tuesday that the city’s current statute could be used for censorship, noting that “there is allegedly a policy not to arrest children drawing rainbows on the sidewalk,” but the statute would allow for that or the arrest of “those who might scribe something that irks an individual officer.”
The injunction caused turbulence among the city’s criminal law staff on Wednesday, as it enjoined the whole of the city’s property destruction code, not just the section related to graffiti.
Seattle has been wrestling with rising crime, including graffiti, since the Black Lives Matter movement, when the city council voted to “defund” police and left-wing activists seized part of the city for an “autonomous” zone.
“Since 2019, incidents of graffiti reported by the public have grown over 50%, including nearly 20,000 reports of graffiti and tagging in 2021,” Mayor Bruce Harrell said last year in launching a new enforcement plan.
The arrests in the federal case date to January 2021, when four defendants were arrested for graffiti such as “fuck the police”; however, the first defendant was arrested for writing the words “peaceful protest” with coal.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.