Thirteen years for using chalk on a sidewalk

Surveillance cameras catch Jeff Olson in the hideous crime of writing chalk messages about Bank of America. From the San Diego Reader.

Gobsmacked on this one.  A guy out in San Diego named Jeff Olson has been an activist against Bank of America. By ‘Activist’ I mean he’s been writing nasty things in chalk on the sidewalks outside of B of A branches in Mid City, which I assume is part of San Diego. He’s been busted by the police, accused of writing anti-B of A messages some 13 times over a period of several months last year. This is in CHALK, people. It washes off. If you wait for it to rain, it goes away on its own.

Instead, the San Diego City attorney Jan Goldsmith is seeking THIRTEEN YEARS in prison and a $13,000 fine, claiming that it cost the city thousands of dollars to hose off the sidewalks. Again, doesn’t it rain in San Diego? More to the point, I’m given to understand the state is broke. Why is anybody contemplating putting a protester/activist in jail for 4,000+ days over chalk? My sense is that Goldsmith’s zeal in this case has a lot to do with a nasty fight he’s having with the current Mayor of San Diego, one Bob Filner. At one point, Olson, a former assistant to a US Senator, was campaigning on Filner’s behalf when he ran for Congress. Goldsmith is also accused of toadying behavior on behalf of B of A, which would probably be pleased to underwrite future campaigns for the ambitious city attorney. The investigation for the chalk writing was handled by the San Diego Police Department GANG UNIT following a request to Goldsmith from the Bank of America Security officer.

Wait, it gets better! When Olson appeared before Judge Howard Shore, the judge granted prosecution’s motion to prohibit Olson’s attorney Tom Tosdal from mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial. (For those of you tuning in late, this is usually called a motion ‘in limine’, used to keep activists from talking about why they undertook their illegal action. The great grand-daddy of ‘In Limine’ motions was for the pacifists of the Catonsville Nine, who set draft records on fire with home-made napalm in 1968 in order to protest the Vietnam War. The judge in that case ruled all discussion of the war off-limits for the defendants. So the jury couldn’t hear WHY the defendants set draft records on fire.

Here’s Judge Shore’s take on Olson:  “The State’s Vandalism Statute does not mention First Amendment rights”.  Or as the San Diego Reader puts it: The trial, stated the judge, should only focus on whether or not Olson is guilty of vandalism and not what his motivations behind the vandalism were.

Holy crap–Thirteen years in a cellblock for writing things with CHALK?? No wonder Edward Snowden is taking no chances.


  1. This has not been adjudicated yet – so we must work to get the public on board to see the clear suspension of civil-rights and the underlying greed driving this whole thing. Sad, sad day.

    1. Hi, Gwen–my understanding is that there’s now a gag order on Olson to prohibit him from talking about the case. Not a good precedent. And also announced over the weekend was a similar prosecution for a healthcare activist in Pennsylvania for putting a chalk message on the governor’s sidewalk. The last time i was at Zuccotti (a few Saturdays ago), the Brookfield guys were out with their cleaning equipment within an hour after activists had done chalk pictures in support of the protesters in Istanbul. it’s a little scary out there.

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