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Writing Messages in Chalk Can Get You a Year in Jail?

Writing Messages in Chalk Can Get You a Year in Jail?

Four Las Vegas residents face up to a year in jail for writing anti-police brutality messages in chalk near a local police building. The arrests are the latest in a rash of crackdowns against protesters who have exercised their First Amendment rights with chalk nationwide.

The Vegas protesters are aligned with Nevada Cop Block, a group critical of police brutality. So far in 2013, Las Vegas officers have shot nine people. Among the messages the protesters wrote in chalk:

  • “F*** the police.”
  • “Murderers still work here.”
  • “Not one single cop in Metro’s entire history has been charged after shooting someone. Even if that person was unarmed and/or innocent.”

The defendants, Kelly Patterson, Hailee Jewell, Catalino de la Cruz Dazo Jr. and Brian Ballentine, were cited with misdemeanors initially, then leveled with larger “defacing property” charges after writing additional chalk messages. Two of the individuals also received counts of “conspiracy to commit a non-felony crime.”

“This is not a kid drawing with a piece of chalk on the sidewalk,” Steve Wolfson, the county district attorney argued. “These are adults who used chalk to draw profanity.” Surely, the oft-described City of Sin overlooks worse than the F-word on a daily basis.

Larry Hadfield, a Las Vegas police spokesman refused to comment on the case. “We are not interested in this being tried in the media,” he said. Indeed, the court of public opinion might not look so favorably at such trumped up charges.

One person who is talking is Robert Langford, the lawyer representing the four defendants pro bono. “They were engaged in constitutionally protected First Amendment activity,” he said. “They have the right to engage in that type of protest. This was something that was harmless.”

Langford also suggests that by employing a power washer that cost $1,500, the police purposefully chose an excessively expensive way of cleaning the political messages in order to bump the charges up from misdemeanors to gross misdemeanors.

“The bullies at the Las Vegas police department wanted to hurt people who wanted to criticize them,” Langford said. “That’s what this case is about.” If true, count this case among the emerging trend of police forces lashing out against those who protest police brutality.

Similarly, the Vegas foursome is hardly alone in being arrested for using water soluble chalk. In recent times, more than 50 people have been arrested for writing with chalk. In perhaps the most ludicrous incident, LA riot police fired rubber bullets into a crowd after attempting to stop people from drawing pictures and political messages with chalk during a community art event.

With any luck, a jury will acquit the Vegas chalk artists on all charges as it did with San Diego resident Jeffrey Olson last month. After Olsen used chalk to scrawl anti-bank slogans outside of Bank of Americas, bank reps urged the city attorney to prosecute Olson on 13 misdemeanor charges of vandalism.

Sign the petition below if you think these charges should be dropped.

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7:17PM PDT on Sep 16, 2013

Signed related petition!

1:29AM PDT on Aug 30, 2013

I meant cops, not op!

1:29AM PDT on Aug 30, 2013

If this stands up in court, then the courts are just as corrupt as the op

7:37PM PDT on Aug 27, 2013

Signed, with scathing comment that can't really remember...I was angry! Can't understand why they're offended by words used by their own police, in front of others, on a daily basis. There are actual criminals to try and you waste money, and the judicial process, on ridiculous, childish charges. Makes you look real good the rest of the country!

11:28AM PDT on Aug 26, 2013

Sidewalk chalk is a great way to spread messages of love ...

6:36AM PDT on Aug 26, 2013

They should count their blessings - they didn't get Tasered or shot.

4:58PM PDT on Aug 25, 2013

OK....everytime I thought a particular part of the story was incredulous I'd get to an even more unbelievable part...
I'm sorry; but I can only repeat what I started out with...REALLY???????????

4:46PM PDT on Aug 25, 2013

Petition signed.

2:06PM PDT on Aug 25, 2013

The first amendment guarantees free speech, not defacing public property. These guys should have handed out flyers or posted signs on cardboard or something....

10:18AM PDT on Aug 25, 2013

good comment - petition signed

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