An Onalaska woman and her teenage daughter are fighting graffiti citations, arguing police overreacted to sidewalk chalk messages left along the city’s waterfront.
Lori Lunney and her 16-year-old daughter, members of the La Crosse Area Showing up for Racial Justice group, on April 16 spread what she described as messages of love on public sidewalks and short walls where visitors can sit at the Great River Landing.
The messages included: “Love is not racist,” “You are welcome here,” “There is enough room for everyone,” “You are standing on Ho-Chunk land,” “Stand up for Muslims” and “Black lives matter.”
“We never thought anything of it,” Lunney said.
The next day, an Onalaska officer showed up at her house and issued Lunney and her daughter $187 tickets.
“I was floored that this was a crime,” she said. “It’s over-policing of sidewalk chalking.”
Lunney met with Police Chief Jeff Trotnic, who told her that the messages defaced public property and could encourage more chalking. Police issued the citations after Parks Director Dan Wick and Council President Bob Muth consulted.
“It has nothing to do with the content. The issue was the amount of messages,” Trotnic said. “This wasn’t a 6-year-old scribbling on a 2-by-3 piece of sidewalk. This was hundreds of feet of messages.”
An officer on Lunney’s citation stated that some of the messages appeared to be written in oil-based chalk that required a pressure washer for removal.
“We got the chalk at Target,” Lunney said. “It was already smearing off as we were writing the messages.”
The racial justice group at least twice left similar messages on public property in La Crosse without issue, Lunney noted.
Lunney and her daughter will appear in Coulee Region Joint Municipal Court on June 5.