The saga over the signs of local gadfly Jeff Northrup seems to have struck a chord in Taos.
Town of Taos officials recently cracked down on Northrup and his fluorescent, political and often contentious signs that occasionally dot the sides of Paseo del Pueblo Sur. Northrup was served with notice to take his signs down at least two times last week.
On March 16, Northrup held his ground and didn’t take them down within the two-hour limit given by police. In an encounter with law enforcement that lasted about 20 minutes, Northrup laid down between two stopped vehicles on Paseo south of La Posta Road. Instead of being cited, fined or arrested, Northrup was taken to Holy Cross Hospital for a mental health evaluation.
“This is an issue of free speech,” Northrup told The Taos News before the encounter.
Apparently, about half of Taos agrees with him.
An unscientific poll on taosnews.com asked readers if the town should make Northrup take down his signs. As of press time, 547 people voted, “Yes, [they] are a nuisance.” On the other hand, 566 people voted, “No, [they] should be protected under the First Amendment.” Another 115 had mixed feelings or no opinion.
Comments on the Taos News Facebook page were also equally split.
In Northrup’s camp, Susan Barraclough said, “Signs violate code? More like Town of Taos violates the U.S. Constitution.”
If the signs are taken down, “Taos will lose its quirkiness and become just another dusty New Mexico town,” said Carolyn Milby Anderson.
“At least he stands by what he believes and actually tries to do something about [it]. It's his right. Not very many people can do what he does. I actually respect that,” wrote Yiyo E. Idania Vieyra.
Marie Coté Twarogowski simply said, “Jeff is Taos.”
On the opposing side, Mary Fleming raised the point that, “Some of the signs are extremely offensive. Celebrating the death of Justice Scalia. Demeaning the president. … These comments would never be acceptable if these men were leftists. No one would have dared make the same comments about President Obama.”
“How many of you parents appreciate your kids reading these signs? I know I don’t. ... Totally inappropriate,” said Emily Brown.
“I could see one or two signs but a few days ago he had like 20. At that point he is going beyond freedom of speech. Everyone has a right to be heard but we all don't go post 20 bright neon signs. … Isn't that what social media is for?” said Elias Cisneros.
Northrup was back at it March 20, putting up his signs. However, unlike last week, he complied with the two-hour notice and took them down.