ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Mark Townsend, 58, is proud of his culture, and wanted to display that pride on the sidewalk in front of the St. Petersburg Police Department.
“I do love my Black culture, deeply. And nothing against other ones, I just love mine,” said Townsend. “And I think we need to be more pronounced about who we are so we can share our culture because we haven’t done enough.”
So he started writing his message on the sidewalk.
“It was just like a sharpie marker, a sharpie marker like you get at the library out of the bucket. I just kind of like wrote it,” said Townsend. “And that was it!”
Townsend wrote “BLM” in several spots, and “Black people, a people of integrity.” The next thing he knew, he was in handcuffs.
What Townsend calls freedom of expression, police call criminal mischief. Ashley Limardo, a spokesperson for the St. Petersburg Police Department, says maintenance workers initially spotted the writing and tried to remove it.
“Our maintenance crew tried using different solvents to try and get it lifted from the floor, and nothing worked,” said Limardo. “So, the only option that we had was to grind it off.”
The grinding means those sidewalks will now eventually have to be replaced, and that isn’t cheap.
“In order to replace the sidewalk it’s going to cost us approximately $26,000,” said Limardo.
Some in the Black community appreciate Townsend’s message, but wonder if that was the right venue to display it. Brandi Gergle questions the location.
“I think freedom of speech is important, I do feel that this is vandalism,” said Gergle. “This is a beautiful building. It was just built for our city. We do not condone vandalism of any type.”
Tierra Archer, a St. Petersburg real estate broker, has similar feelings.
“I do think that everybody is entitled to freedom of speech, but I do also feel like this is vandalism,” said Archer. “What people don’t realize is the more they mess up the more we have to come behind and clean up meaning that taxpayers will have to pay for this. “
Townsend spoke exclusively to 8 On Your Side from inside the Pinellas County Jail. He hopes his arrest does not erase his message, he adds, he wasn’t trying to hide what he was doing.
“It wasn’t like I was trying to do anything malicious,” said Townsend. “I knew there was cameras there, and I saw the writing and stuff on other.”