When George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck, a New York family wanted to honor his life and show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Since Avisia Brown and her mother had multiple health issues and didn’t feel safe going to protests, they decided to put several signs on their house in Westchester County, New York. The signs included a bedsheet hung across the front window with a quotation from Martin Luther King Jr. saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
But on Sunday, Brown and her husband Dan found a letter from the town of Eastchester between the porch and the side of their house, saying they had to remove the banner or face a fine.
The letter, dated June 12, said the family had to take down the banner by the next day, or they could be fined up to a $1,000 per day or be imprisoned for up to a year.
“The letter seemed very shady, but I took down the sign and reached out to the town,” said Brown, who lives in the house with her husband, their son Odin and her mother, Doreen Limato.
“I called the cellphone number on the letter, and I emailed him. They didn’t call us back,” she said.
Brown said that the town’s director of building and planning eventually emailed them back, saying her message had been forwarded to the town attorney. But they haven’t heard from anyone since then.
In a neighborhood decorated with large banners for birthdays, graduations and in support of health care workers, Brown thinks that their sign was targeted because of the content.
The town fully supports the content of the sign, said Town Supervisor Anthony S. Colavita, but the town has received multiple complaints about it and the town code doesn’t permit banners on residential buildings. He told CNN that five other locations in the area were asked to take down banners, including a house with a Trump 2020 sign.
“We had contacted them, the town attorney reach out to them four or five times and left his card there to work things out,” Colavita said. He said that the letter was a last resort for the town.
But Brown said her family never received any warning from the town. Both Colavita and Brown say they have the phone records to prove their version of events.
Brown said she is especially frustrated because the letter citing the code includes language saying displays consisting of “banners, pennants, flags, (except for the American Standard) ribbons, streamers, spinners, or similar moving, fluttering, or revolving devices” are forbidden. If this is true, Brown said, then some of her neighbor’s decorations wouldn’t be allowed either.
She asked several of her neighbors if they’ve gotten a similar letter, but they told her they haven’t. Brown doesn’t want to her neighbor’s decorations taken down, but wants to be allowed to express her support for what she said is an important cause.
Limato, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 45 years, expressed disappointment at the town’s request. They’ve had banners on their house regularly for the last 10 years and were never told to take them down, she said.
“I live in America, and I don’t have free speech,” she said. “It’s a very important issue.”
When asked about why holiday banners of the same size were not asked to be taken down, Colavita said that holiday decorations are allowed since they are temporary.
Colavita told CNN the town board decided Tuesday night to review current sign regulations and will suspend enforcement of banners in the meantime.
Brown said her family never intended for this situation to become an issue like this.
“I’m not doing this to tear the town apart, I was hoping to bring it together. As a town and a community, we are not doing enough for Black Lives Matter. We are not focusing equally on these communities as we can be as a community,” said Brown.