In San Diego, California a man is on trial for writing on the sidewalk with chalk. Apparently, he was writing such clever and inflammatory things as “No Thanks, Big Banks” and “Shame on Bank of America” on public sidewalks outside a few Bank of America branches in San Diego.
You might wonder how something like this could ever possibly get to the point of a trial. I assume it went something like this: the branch managers for the banks never learned how to look the other way or, as I like to call it, ignore things that don’t fucking matter. So, they decided to call the police every time he wrote something on their sidewalks. Which it appears he did a lot. Finally, the police, I assume, decided it would be easier to arrest this guy then deal with petulant bank managers. Then the City Attorney, for reasons I can’t quite comprehend, decided to actually prosecute the case. As far as I can tell, her argument was “It really was pretty annoying.” Then the judge decided that it wasn’t a free speech case, but just a run of the mill vandalism case. Which, I don’t know . . . If giving money to a politician is a form of free speech, then surely writing with sidewalk chalk is as well?
My cursory review of the vandalism statute in California says that the prosecutor is going to have to prove that Mr. Olson maliciously defaced the sidewalks. I’m sure the prosecution argued that it was malicious because the whinny bank managers’ feelings were quite hurt and the defense countered that you can’t do anything malicious with children’s sidewalk chalk. (Although, as a defense attorney and thus a depraved soul, I can think of several malicious things you could do with children’s sidewalk chalk, but none of them include writing “I don’t like banks.”) The city of San Diego came out in support of Mr. Olson by writing all over the sidewalks with chalk, of course.
This case raises a few questions:
1. At what point do prosecutors have a duty to be like “No, this shit is stupid?”
2. Does anyone else feel like this is a double dare by the city prosecutors to get out that old chalk set?
3. If it’s vandalism to write on public sidewalks with chalk, could companies be liable for selling “sidewalk” chalk?
4. Sally from next door writes really annoying shit all over the side walk along my block. Is this my opportunity to land that little brat in jail?