[Hpn] Santa Cruz, CA - Writing in chalk on the sidewalk in Santa Cruz is a crime - Santa Cruz Sentinel - September 28, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <hccjr@bellsouth.net
Sat, 28 Sep 2002 17:31:14 -0500

Court official rules sidewalk chalking is not a free speech issue

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.
By JASON SCHULTZ - Santa Cruz Sentinel - September 28, 2002

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.

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 donít 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.

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 Borderís 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.

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

"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."

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.

Joseph did not agree with any of Johnsonís arguments.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Johnson plans to appeal her conviction and fight the other
charges. The outcome of Kennedyís charges are unclear.

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