Family told by New York town to remove Martin Luther King Jr. banner say they're being targeted

"It's not political," a family member said. "If you can watch a man have his neck kneeled on for nearly 9 minutes, and it not move you — there's something wrong."

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By Janelle Griffith

A New York family told by their town to take down a banner displaying a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. — because it violated a fire code — say they believe they are being unjustly targeted.

Avisia Brown and her family were told they need to take down a banner hung outside their house displaying a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. in Eastchester, N.Y.Avisia Brown

For the past 10 years, Avisia Brown, who is white, said she has hung banners outside the home she shares with her mother, husband and son in Eastchester, about 20 miles northeast of Manhattan.

In most cases, the banners — made from an old bed sheet — are hung to celebrate a holiday.

About a week and a half ago, Brown, 37, said she erected a display to join the national conversation on racial inequality to honor George Floyd, the 46-year-old African American man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes on May 25.

Brown draped a banner over a window with the King quote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

In the grass and dirt in front of the home she placed signs that say, "Black Lives Matter," "No justice no peace" and "United We Stand." There is also a poster that quotes some of Floyd's last words, "I can't breathe."

Avisia Brown has previously had a Halloween display outside her house with banners, in Eastchester, N.Y.Avisia Brown

"I feel like it encompasses exactly what's happened right now," Brown said in an interview Tuesday, referring to King's quote. "A lot of people look at it as 'Black Lives Matter, that's not my issue. I don't need to worry about it.'"

But, she said, people "need to realize it's going to trickle down. It's not a political issue. This is a civil rights issue. If you can watch a man have his neck kneeled on for nearly 9 minutes, and it not move you — there's something wrong."

When Brown and her family set out on their daily walk Sunday, her husband, Dan Brown, found a note in the dirt between the house and porch. It was a notice from the Town of Eastchester Building and Planning Department that had apparently been left there Friday, informing them they had until Saturday to remove the banner from the front facade of the residence.

The banner violated a fire prevention and building code, the note said. If it was not removed by Monday, the homeowner, Avisia Brown's mother, Doreen Limato, could be fined up to $1,000 for every day it is up.

In a statement to NBC News, the town of Eastchester said it supports the free expression of different view points, and that while certain types of signs and holiday decorations are permitted, banners are not.

"The content of the banner is not considered in issuing warnings or violations," the town said. "Numerous other signs with similar messages were placed at the same residence and remain there."

The town said it had received complaints about Brown's banner, and after several unsuccessful attempts were made to contact the owner of the property to advise it was in violation of the code and needed to be removed, a notice of violation was issued.

Brown removed the banner to avoid any fines, but she said she believes her family is being singled out because of the display's messaging.

Brown said she has displayed banners the same size and made from the same material for the past decade that have been up for 30 to 60 days — before and well after a holiday — without notice from the town. The family has also featured over-the-top Halloween decorations and never faced opposition, she said.

In October, Brown placed a banner that said "Christ promised a resurrection of the dead" over the same window where she hung the banner that has come under scrutiny.

Some of her neighbors — including one across the street — have large window displays, but have told her they have not received a notice from the town.

"We've never been told this was in violation of anything," she said. "We have neighbors who have banners up for graduations."

Brown said she has contacted the town to see if they can provide clarification as to why she alone has received a notice.

The town disputed that account on Tuesday, saying that at around the same time a notice was issued where Brown lives, "several other premises were notified that they must remove their banners." All but one complied with the requests, the town said, adding that the residence was then issued a notice of violation and ultimately complied.

Brown said she has requested the town consider amending its sign laws.