Artist Arrested For Peddling At Inner Harbor Sparks Free Speech Debate

BALTIMORE (WJZ)— The arrest of an artist at the Inner Harbor is sparking a debate about free speech.

Meghan McCorkell has more.

Mark Chase was arrested after he set up his spray paint art display at the Inner Harbor. Police told him he needs a permit. But he’s battled this before.

Chase uses spray paint to make his masterpieces. But this weekend, his art landed him behind bars.

In a home video, you can see police arresting Chase because he didn’t have a permit to perform at the Inner Harbor.

“I told them it’s my First Amendment right to be here,” he said. “This is my form of expression. This is a public forum.”

A judge recently ruled it unconstitutional for Ocean City to force Chase to get a permit.

“You shouldn’t have to have prior approval from the government to express yourself in a public forum,” Chase said.

While the cases differ, Chase’s arrest shines the spotlight on an issue brought up in a 2003 civil suit filed by the ACLU.

That suit was filed after protesters were arrested at the Inner Harbor.

David Rocah with the ACLU says artists and protesters shouldn’t need a permit.

“Normally in a society that protects free speech you shouldn’t need a permission slip from the government to engage in free speech,” Rocah said.

A settlement in the ACLU suit could help define the rules.

A police spokesman tells WJZ’s media partner, the Baltimore Sun, “I think that once that is settled, we will have firm rules in place and things will be a lot clearer. Until that gets settled, we will continue to have situations like this.”

City officials are nearing a settlement with the ACLU on that lawsuit.

Chase says he’ll continue painting at the Inner Harbor– even if it means more time behind bars. He spent 13 hours in Central Booking, charged with peddling without a permit.

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