Sidewalk Chalk Acquittal: Chalk Messages Outside Bank Not Vandalism

Tuesday, 02 Jul 2013 05:11 PM

By Morgan Chilson

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A San Diego jury has acquitted Jeff Olson of 13 counts of vandalism after he was arrested for writing anti-bank slogans on the sidewalk in water-soluble chalk.

It was a case where San Diego Mayor Bob Filner called the charges "stupid," disagreeing from the beginning with the city attorney’s attempt to prosecute Olson, The Associated Press reported.

“It’s washable chalk, it’s political slogans,” Filner said. “We’re not even responding to the public’s complaint. ... I think it’s a stupid case. It’s costing us money.”

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Olson, who could have gone to jail for 13 years and paid $13,000 in fines if found guilty, was charged with writing slogans such as “No thanks, big banks,” outside of Bank of America branches in 2012. The AP also said he drew a picture of an octopus grabbing dollar bills.

The Associated Press reported that a statement from the city attorney’s office defended the case: “Graffiti remains vandalism in the state of California. Under the law, there is no First Amendment right to deface property, even if the writing is easily removed, whether the message is aimed at banks or any other person or group. We are, however, sympathetic to the strong public reaction to this case and the jury’s message.”

Olson supporters held a “Chalk-U-Py” event over the weekend, The Huffington Post reported. About 100 people showed up near the city’s Hall of Justice to write chalk messages in support of the chalk artist. 

The online news site reported that Olson showed up at the rally with tape over his mouth indicating “gag order.” The judge put a gag order on all case participants.

Encouragement for Olson was widespread, online and in the San Diego community. Creativity abounded, and one supporter even wrote a YouTube ballad in favor of chalk activism.

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