by Max Brantley
The closure of a convenience store operated by a Muslim of Palestinian descent at Wright Avenue and Battery has stirred a small tempest. The owner thinks he's been targeted on account of heritage. The City Board heard some shocking anti-Islamic remarks at its last board meeting from neighbors, including a nominal Christian bishop.
The city also painted over parts of the protest the owner had painted on his closed business, specifically, "I'm Palestinian. I'm Muslim. I'm unwelcome" spray-painted by hand.
The news prompts a note from Robert Johnston, a political activist and former state legislator, to Mayor Mark Stodola, Vice Mayor Dean Kumpuris and City Manager Bruce Moore:
Dear Mark, Dean, and Bruce
Thank you for speaking out against the Islamophobic comments Tuesday [and instructing city employees that Islamophobia has no place in this city.]
Under what legal justification did city employees paint over a political message on the convenience store by the owner?
That second question had occurred to me as well. I asked City Attorney Tom Carpenter about it this morning. He said he had not been consulted directly on the city paint job and that he, too, had questions about government's ability to limit speech. He said that the government does have more leeway on commercial speech and that it might be that, as a commercial property, messages painted there could be subject to more government control. But he was just thinking out loud. He promised to check further.
UPDATE: The city apparently painted over the spray-painted portion of the message — and not the signs above — because they construed it to be graffiti, which constitutes a public nuisance. City ordinance allows the city manager to authorize removal of graffiti.
Meanwhile, the store owner, Wael Karakra, says he intends to put his message back up. It's certainly is defensible on ground of truth, based on the shocking remarks made by Bishop Robert Smith of Total Outreach for Christ Ministries who told city directors that purchase of businesses by Muslims was a form of "Islamic aggression" aimed at supplanting the U.S. Constitution with Sharia law. Yes. He said that. Smith, you might recall, is famous for aggressively politicking for Republican candidates from his pulpit, despite bright letter law that this sort of thing should costs his church any preferential tax treatment it enjoys.