Washington Square “Park Poet” Arrested for Using Chalk on Fountain Plaza

“I believe that my arrest was retaliation against me for expressing views critical of police presence in the park.”

Washington Square Park has had a marked shift since the height of Covid summer 2020 and even years prior which had a kinder attitude towards artists, musicians, protesters, and people who needed the use of this public space.

However, last year, May, June, the city, via the NYPD, started using heavy police aggression during Mayor De Blasio’s reign. It was overkill, it was horrible, and since that time, the park has been overly policed.

Nothing points to this more than last week’s incident when “park poet,” Peter Chinman – a park regular for five years – was arrested for chalking the fountain plaza. Here is his story of what happened on that date.

Q & A with Peter Chinman, “Park Poet”

On Tuesday May 10, I was set up with my poetry/candle stand on the west side of the fountain. In the afternoon, a group of 6 cops came thru and stood in a group ~ 30 feet from me.

I do a protest performance sometimes where I draw a chalk circle around cops standing around and then write out the approximate dollar amount of public funds being spent to have them in the park. It attracts a lot of attention to them, and the police seem to hate it.

I started doing that to this group of cops and was told to stop. I said something to the effect of “stop using chalk? this isn’t illegal” and continued drawing my circle. I was immediately pulled off the ground, cuffed, and transported to 6th Precinct.

I was locked up for 4 hours and then let out with a court appearance ticket for “defacing public property with graffiti”. They gave me my possessions. They had broken hundreds of dollars worth of my candles. They damaged my table. They lost my credit card reader.

I believe that my arrest was retaliation against me for expressing views critical of police presence in the park.

How often are you at the park?

I’m at the park ~5 days a week between April & October.

When did you first start coming to Washington Square Park?

I started coming in April 2017.

What made you come to Washington Square Park?

I had just started writing poems for strangers full time. I sort of accidentally wandered in Washington Square Park and realized pretty immediately that this was the perfect place.

Overall, how have you found your relationships / experiences with other artists/merchants?

I’ve had almost exclusively great relationships with the other artists & merchants. There is a strong sense of mutual support. We look out for each other. And also often just genuine admiration for each other’s art.

How have the police treated you up til now? How have the PEP interacted with you? When did you first notice a more aggressive policing at the park?

My first three years in the park I almost never saw a single police officer.

Now we’ve got a permanent police presence in the park

In the spring of 2021, as people started coming back out after a winter of covid lockdown, the park became a site of communal celebration & joy. There was nowhere indoors to gather and so people came out to the park. The pent up desire for fresh air and freedom was palpable. A truly special time in the park.

But soon after that the NYPD started showing up in force. I assume that the wealthy property owners complained about the way the park was now being used.

One of the first things I remember the NYPD doing was shutting down the NW corner of the park, because that was “where people used drugs.” Which, of course, didn’t stop people from using drugs, but just pushed those people out into the rest of the park. I think it was a purposefully ineffective strategy.

Wealthy neighbors saw this seemingly increased public drug use, complained even more, and now we’ve got a permanent police presence in the park.

The police come thru every afternoon. They stand around in groups, doing nothing. Sometimes I see them hassling performers & vendors. You can feel their presence in the park. It puts a damper on people. It kills the vibe. I’ve never seen them doing anything useful, and let me tell you the WSP bathroom could use more regular cleaning.

I have no love for the greenies (PEP), but they’re better than NYPD: no guns, less brutality, less intimidation. They also hassle performers & vendors, but there’s less of a sense that they might arrest them for no reason.

Previously at the park:

2012 fountain plaza

Photos #1-4: @theparkpoet via Instagram
Photo #5: wspmutualaid via Instagram
Photos 6-8: Cathryn

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