People are allowed to spray paint within Heaven Skate Park, located off Main Street in Hartford, but there’s a thin line between freedom of speech and defamation.
The walls at the park are covered with self-expression, but police took action when someone in a neighboring office building saw the latest addition -- a guillotine with blood dripping from an angled blade and the message “DE-VITALIZE DOWNTOWN.”
Police have arrested Matthew McLaughlin, 28, of Hartford, who is accused of spray painting.
Officials said he was arrested before finishing the painting, but planned to list names of political groups and figures, including Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra.
“People need to have ways to express their distaste with what’s going on,” Danielle Cote, a resident of downtown Hartford, said. “But at the same time, I’m against violence.”
Cote was dining at Salute restaurant in downtown with her friend, Kevin Ward, who also lives downtown and Ward said he read about plans for changes to the park earlier in the day.
“I think it’s a little intense, but freedom of speech – go for it,” said Ward, who added that he only finds a problem with political speech if it’s threatening.
Police said there was no direct threat to anyone.
“Graffiti is tolerated,” said Lt. Brian Foley, of the Hartford Police Department. “But certainly anything that is violent or offensive, they’re going to take action.”
McLaughlin has been charged with breach of peace and criminal mischief.
City officials are considering plans to limit graffiti in the park only to two walls and want to clean up the rest of the graffiti and turn the park into an official skate park.
“I also agree with that sort of philosophy of not allowing violent graffiti,” said Cote.
Ward said he does not see a problem with the way it is right now.
“If that’s an outlet for people to express themselves and they keep it to the park and they’re not tagging buildings, that’s a great spot for it,” he said.
Police said officials will evaluate the guillotine on Wednesday and decide how to go about removing it.