An Open Letter to the City of Durham
A "ghost bike" is a bicycle that has been painted white, and placed along a roadside in memory of the killing of a cyclist at that place. Two such memorials in Durham were recently removed because one person complained.
Now the clock is ticking on a third ghost bike because that same person has lodged another complaint. We don’t know Mr. Khalil Nasir, but he most assuredly does not speak for us. Neither does he speak for many others who live in or visit Durham. Under the current policy on roadside memorials, however, his voice is the only one that is being heard. Whether you agree with the placement of ghost bikes (and other such memorials) or not, this has to give pause to the community at large. One person has been given the power to be both judge and jury as to the presence of roadside memorials in the City of Durham. These memorials represent the free speech rights of both the loved ones of those killed and the public-at-large to memorialize their loved ones, to grieve as they see fit, and to remind people of the consequences of their actions. The current policy, as written, allows any person to deem a roadside memorial a nuisance and lodge a complaint. The policy doesn’t require that person to be a citizen of Durham, to demonstrate that the memorial impacts their life in any way, or to show that the memorial is, in fact, a nuisance. If a person complains, then the memorial must be removed. This is at best misguided, and at worst a gross infringement of the free speech rights of those impacted.
The City Council seems to have decided that, because it has no idea as to how to fix the policy, this same policy it knows to be broken should stay in place. Having been partners or friends with someone whose untimely death is represented by one of those ghost bikes, we call on the City to do better. Here is our proposal: the complainant should attest under oath that he or she is a Durham resident that lives or works within 1/4 mile of the roadside memorial, and must specifically allege how the memorial poses a nuisance. The City should then, in conjunction with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, make a determination as to whether the memorial is actually a nuisance. For example, does the memorial block road maintenance? Is it in disrepair? If it is not a nuisance, it stays. If it is, then it can be removed. An appeals process should also be established to ensure this policy is fairly applied. Only with such a narrowly tailored policy can freedom of speech rights be preserved.
To do less is unconstitutional.
Eunice Chang, Partner of Seth Vidal
Elizabeth Witzke, Partner of Kent Winberry
Carrie Anne Orlikowski, Friend of Seth Vidal