[Hpn] Court rules sidewalk chalk not free speech

Becky Johnson Becky_Johnson@sbcglobal.net
Sat, 28 Sep 2002 13:23:14 -0700


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From: The Santa Cruz Sentinel
=20
September 28, 2002=20



Court official rules sidewalk chalking not free speech=20
By JASON SCHULTZ
Sentinel staff writer=20
A Superior Court officer ruled Friday that writing in chalk on the =
sidewalk is not protected by the U.S. Constitution, and in Santa Cruz at =
least, is a crime.=20

Commissioner Irwin Joseph found homeless activist Becky Johnson and =
artist Tim Rinker guilty of defacing a city sidewalk. In June the two =
wrote slogans like "Vandals don't use chalk" and "Sleeping is not a =
crime" on the sidewalk at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Cooper =
Street. Both were sentenced to serve 23 hours of community service, =
though their attorney, Ed Frey, vows to appeal.=20

The chalking incidents were part of a wave of confrontations between =
police and homeless people and activists over chalking on Pacific Avenue =
this summer. Nathan Kennedy was arrested after repeatedly chalking in =
front of Border's Bookstore in a 24-hour period. Several other homeless =
people have been cited for chalking. Johnson was arrested in August on =
suspicion of misdemeanor vandalism for chalking. That case goes to trial =
in October.=20

Johnson maintains that what she did was legal and is a protected form of =
free speech under the First Amendment.=20

"Chalk is cheap. It is readily available, and it is a very effective way =
of communicating short messages to the general public," Johnson told =
Joseph in an allocution statement that went so long Joseph eventually =
cut her off. "Chalk is not illegal. It does not rise to the level of =
defacement."=20

Johnson compared the chalking she did on the sidewalk to performance =
art. Rinker said he was protesting what he called police harassment of =
homeless people downtown. Johnson said she thought the law, which has =
been on the books since 1964 but does not specifically mention chalking, =
is being selectively enforced as part of a police conspiracy to harass =
homeless people, a charge the police have always denied.=20

Joseph did not agree with any of Johnson's arguments.=20

In his ruling, Joseph said that just because the chalk easily can be =
washed off the sidewalk does not make it protected free speech. He said =
he found no evidence of selective enforcement by police. He found that =
their right to free speech was not impaired by the ban on chalking and =
ruled that the city ordinance is constitutional and fully enforceable.=20

Johnson was reading a lengthy statement when Joseph cut her off, saying =
he would not "entertain debate" or "allow a filibuster" in his =
courtroom.=20

City attorney John Barrisone said he thought the ruling was just and =
would help give the city the ability to control its streets and maintain =
downtown.=20

Johnson alleged that Joseph's ruling effectively makes all writing with =
chalk on the sidewalk illegal anywhere in the city, meaning the police =
must now ticket Girl Scout's playing hopscotch as well as people drawing =
on the sidewalk during the popular First Night celebration, which has =
been canceled this year.=20

Rinker said the city has a tourist promotions video that shows people =
drawing on the sidewalk in chalk during previous First Night parties, =
and no arrests were made then.=20

Johnson plans to appeal her conviction and fight the other charges. The =
outcome of Kennedy's charges are unclear.=20

Contact Jason Schultz at jschultz@santa-cruz.com.=20




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<DIV><BR></DIV>
<DIV><FONT size=3D2><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2>From: The Santa Cruz=20
Sentinel</FONT></FONT></DIV>
<DIV><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2><FONT face=3D"Verdana, Arial, =
Helvetica, sans-serif"=20
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<DIV><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2><FONT face=3D"Verdana, Arial, =
Helvetica, sans-serif"=20
size=3D2>September 28, 2002 <BR></DIV><BR><!-- tablestart --><!-- =
tableend --><B>
<H2>Court official rules sidewalk chalking not free speech </H2>
<DIV><B></B><B>By JASON SCHULTZ</B><BR></B>Sentinel staff writer </DIV>
<P>A Superior Court officer ruled Friday that writing in chalk on the =
sidewalk=20
is not protected by the U.S. Constitution, and in Santa Cruz at least, =
is a=20
crime.=20
<P>Commissioner Irwin Joseph found homeless activist Becky Johnson and =
artist=20
Tim Rinker guilty of defacing a city sidewalk. In June the two wrote =
slogans=20
like "Vandals don&#8217;t use chalk" and "Sleeping is not a crime" on =
the sidewalk at=20
the corner of Pacific Avenue and Cooper Street. Both were sentenced to =
serve 23=20
hours of community service, though their attorney, Ed Frey, vows to =
appeal.=20
<P>The chalking incidents were part of a wave of confrontations between =
police=20
and homeless people and activists over chalking on Pacific Avenue this =
summer.=20
Nathan Kennedy was arrested after repeatedly chalking in front of =
Border&#8217;s=20
Bookstore in a 24-hour period. Several other homeless people have been =
cited for=20
chalking. Johnson was arrested in August on suspicion of misdemeanor =
vandalism=20
for chalking. That case goes to trial in October.=20
<P>Johnson maintains that what she did was legal and is a protected form =
of free=20
speech under the First Amendment.=20
<P>"Chalk is cheap. It is readily available, and it is a very effective =
way of=20
communicating short messages to the general public," Johnson told Joseph =
in an=20
allocution statement that went so long Joseph eventually cut her off. =
"Chalk is=20
not illegal. It does not rise to the level of defacement."=20
<P>Johnson compared the chalking she did on the sidewalk to performance =
art.=20
Rinker said he was protesting what he called police harassment of =
homeless=20
people downtown. Johnson said she thought the law, which has been on the =
books=20
since 1964 but does not specifically mention chalking, is being =
selectively=20
enforced as part of a police conspiracy to harass homeless people, a =
charge the=20
police have always denied.=20
<P>Joseph did not agree with any of Johnson&#8217;s arguments.=20
<P>In his ruling, Joseph said that just because the chalk easily can be =
washed=20
off the sidewalk does not make it protected free speech. He said he =
found no=20
evidence of selective enforcement by police. He found that their right =
to free=20
speech was not impaired by the ban on chalking and ruled that the city =
ordinance=20
is constitutional and fully enforceable.=20
<P>Johnson was reading a lengthy statement when Joseph cut her off, =
saying he=20
would not "entertain debate" or "allow a filibuster" in his courtroom.=20
<P>City attorney John Barrisone said he thought the ruling was just and =
would=20
help give the city the ability to control its streets and maintain =
downtown.=20
<P>Johnson alleged that Joseph&#8217;s ruling effectively makes all =
writing with chalk=20
on the sidewalk illegal anywhere in the city, meaning the police must =
now ticket=20
Girl Scout&#8217;s playing hopscotch as well as people drawing on the =
sidewalk during=20
the popular First Night celebration, which has been canceled this year.=20
<P>Rinker said the city has a tourist promotions video that shows people =
drawing=20
on the sidewalk in chalk during previous First Night parties, and no =
arrests=20
were made then.=20
<P>Johnson plans to appeal her conviction and fight the other charges. =
The=20
outcome of Kennedy&#8217;s charges are unclear.=20
<P><I>Contact Jason Schultz at <A=20
href=3D"mailto:jschultz@santa-cruz.com?subject=3DCourt official rules =
sidewalk chalking not free speech">jschultz@santa-cruz.com</A>.=20

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