Crime and Courts

Chief investigative reporter Jonathan Dienst on crime, corruption and terrorism.
Crime and Courts

‘Graffiti Grandma’ Says She Was Arrested For Writing Message in Chalk on NYC Building

The woman does not believe she did anything wrong, denying that chalk can be graffiti, saying instead, "I think chalk is free speech"

NBC Universal, Inc.

She calls herself the "Graffiti Grandma," and now a Washington Heights resident is speaking out after she said she was arrested in April for simply writing a message on the side of a boarded-up building — using chalk.

Amid ongoing protests and growing concerns regarding policing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NYPD is now facing outcry for a different kind of arrest that landed Jill Nelson behind bars.

Nelson, an author, said she was walking down a block in her neighborhood when she passed the business that has green plywood all around it. She pulled out a piece of chalk she had on her pocket, and wrote a short, to-the-point politically charged message toward the bottom of one of the pieces of wood.

"I saw (the wood) and I wrote on it in pink, washable chalk, Trump = plague," Nelson said. Immediately after she finished writing, she said officers in two NYPD cruisers came rushing up to her — and placed her under arrest.

Nelson says she now has a court date for mid-August, but she wants her name cleared. She was stunned she was charged for writing something that was not profane and was entirely washable. The wood boarding up the business had no visible graffiti in the area where Nelson said she wrote her message, the letters about one foot tall.

"To write Trump is plague and get arrested for it? Don't they have anything better to do?" she asked.

The NYPD had no comment on the arrest.

Nelson chalks her message up to a troubling reality in the age of COVID-19.

"As a longtime resident of uptown, Harlem, this community — I think I voice the sentiments of many, many people living here," Nelson said.

Nelson does not believe she did anything wrong, denying that chalk can be graffiti, saying instead, "I think chalk is free speech."

She said she had heard there were some complaints, which is why police showed up so quickly, but she isn't buying that explanation. She is looking for an apology from the NYPD.

Contact Us