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General News    H2'ed 8/15/12

The war on chalk

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Message Gregory Patin

This article was originally published at Madison Independent Examiner. A video and a slideshow is available there.

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Over the past five years at least 49 people in 16 American cities have drawn the ire of authorities for coloring things with chalk. Most were arrested for sketching designs or writing messages on public streets or sidewalks.

On Saturday in Madison, Steve Books, a long-time Veterans for Peace activist, wrote "This is far, far, far from over" in chalk on a sidewalk next to the Capitol building. As a result, he was taken away in handcuffs by Capitol Police and issued a citation for "conduct otherwise prohibited" under Wisconsin Administrative Code 2.14 that in Books' case carries a fine of $205.05.

The response by authorities to Books' heinous powdery crime is consistent with a nationwide trend that some are beginning to call "the war on chalking." Such a trend also may be an indication that the U.S. is moving closer towards fascism.

State Troopers in Austin, TX reacted in a very similar manner to "chalkers" drawing on the sidewalks at 11th Street and Congress Avenue across from the Capitol. According to KUT news, a press release from the Texas Department of Public Safety stated:

On 08/09, at approximately 6p.m., Corey Williams and Audrey Steiner were arrested for Criminal Mischief, class C misdemeanor. The charges might be enhanced to a class B misdemeanor if the cost to the city of Austin [to clean the chalk off the sidewalks] is $50 or more but less than $500. According to the Criminal Mischief law (28.03), "a person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner, intentionally or knowingly makes markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings on the tangible property of the owner."

Two children reportedly burst into tears as police confronted their mom in that chalking incident.

Arrests for chalking nearly started a riot in Los Angeles last month that included bottles being thrown at police and shotguns loaded with beanbags fired into the crowd.

According to Josh Harkinson, writing for Mother Jones:

The war on chalk's most active front as of late has been Los Angeles, where police have arrested numerous chalk-wielding Occupy LA members on vandalism charges. Last month, the occupiers fought back during the city's popular Art Walk by staging their own Chalk Walk, decorating walls and sidewalks with slogans such as "Arrest corrupt bankers, not chalkers" and "When chalking is a crime, only criminals will play hopscotch." Things took an ugly turn"when the first chalker was arrested, and occupiers began throwing bottles at the police; some 140 riot cops moved in to make arrests. Four officers and several protesters were injured.

Two weeks later, art teacher Alexander Schaefer decided to stage a chalk protest of his own. On the sidewalk outside of a Chase branch in downtown LA, he chalked the word "Crooks" next to a rendering of the Chase logo. Watch what happens to him for that in the video at the left.

The war on chalk is not only targeting political activists. Jan Pepperman of Brooklyn, NY was issued a warning letter from the city ordering to her to "PLEASE REMOVE THE GRAFFITI FROM YOUR PROPERTY" or face a $300 fine. The graffiti in question was a chalk drawing done by her six-year-old daughter on the front stoop of their Park Slope residence.

Then there is the case of Susan Mortensen in Richmond, Virginia. In March, Mortensen was arrested for allowing her four-year-old daughter to draw on rocks with sidewalk chalk at a local park on Belle Isle. The vandalism charges are expected to be dismissed, but first the 29-year-old mother will have to perform 50 hours of community service removing the weeds around 200 boundary posts near the James River, then scraping and repainting them.

Mortensen told a local TV station that her daughter is now "very nervous around cops" and "very scared of chalk."

Back in Madison on Sunday, chronic Capitol protesters and hard-core chalk insurgents defied authorities and filled the sidewalks with messages such as:

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Gregory Patin is a free-lance writer residing in Madison, WI. He earned a BA in political science from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and a MS in IT management from Colorado Tech. He is politically independent and not affiliated with either (more...)
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