3 p.m., Aug. 23
Is it the mess or the message? City Attorney has been selective when prosecuting chalk vandalism
Other chalking events, such as one pro-life protest, was granted permission from the Police Department. No charges were ever filed.
Is it the mess or is it the message?
Is it the fact that Olson's message was a key tenet of the Occupy Wall Street movement or would it happen to any person or group wishing to exercise their free speech with a piece of washable chalk?
Those are questions that will likely remain unanswered long after the case of Jeff Olson, a San Diego man who is facing a maximum sentence of 13-years in jail for scribbling anti-Bank of America slogans outside of three bank branches over a five-month span, is decided.
As we reported on Friday, attorney Jeremy Warren was well aware of City Attorney's Jan Goldsmith's desire to prosecute Occupy San Diego participants.
"...I was told in no uncertain terms that negotiations would be challenging because City Attorney Goldsmith was personally involved in the Occupy cases."
Goldsmith's decision to prosecute Olson and the young Occupier who Warren represented, seems to go against what other groups with different message were told.
One such group, pro-life activists Live Action San Diego, organized a "Talk and Chalk" July 2011 protest outside of a local Planned Parenthood.
The group's Facebook event page listed to day's events. "We'll break begin by dropping off Advocates (Live Action's newsletter) on doorsteps in the neighborhood surrounding the [Planned Parenthood] clinic, then head back over to the clinic and chalk up the surrounding sidewalks with pro life messages and take some time to pray for the unborn.
"This is a great chance to get outside, use your artistic skills, and most importantly, ACT for the pro life cause! Invite your friends and we hope to see you there!"
But before the event occurred, organizers began to have concerns about the legality of the chalk-a-thon. In a later comment, Live Action San Diego said their questions were answered.
"Hey everyone! Just wanted to let you know that we have contacted the San Diego Police Department and they confirmed it is NOT considered vandalism to chalk up a sidewalk. There have been some questions regarding this and we wanted to settle them. Hope to see you Thursday!"
The group didn't stop there. One month later the chalk crew were back at it.
"AMAZING flash mob chalking event today! Our team of 16 covered 3 clinics in less than 2 hours! Thank you everyone for coming to stand up for life," read Facebook post from August 2011. The post was accompanied by pictures of the day's events.
Nearly two years later, after the chalk has vanished outside the Planned Parenthood clinics, Olson awaits for twelve jurors to decide his fate. According to a statement from the City Attorney's Office, Olson is the only person to be prosecuted for vandalism with chalk.
Yesterday, on June 30, Olson appeared alongside nearly 100 supporters outside of the San Diego Superior Courthouse at Chalk-U-Py San Diego.
Eight police officers were assigned to oversee the event. Participants were given a six foot by 70-foot area around the building to write their thoughts on the case and exercise their first amendment rights.
"We've agreed to allow them to chalk and express themselves in the front of the courthouse," said Police Captain Mark Jones during the rally.
On Friday, Mayor Bob Filner again expressed his disappointment with the case and the decision by the City Attorney to prosecute Olson.
"It looks like we were prosecuting someone at the insistence of Bank of America for writing political issues. I mean, it's chalk. It's washable chalk. It's political slogans. We are not even responding to public complaints. They were complaints from Bank of America. I think it's a stupid case and is costing us money. If these are the types of cases the City Attorney is prosecuting then I am not sure he needs as much money in his budget as he says he does."
When asked if Filner is considering making a plea to jurors to acquit Olson in spite of his guilt, also known as jury nullification, the Mayor responded, "Nobody has asked me. Usually I respond when the attorney or the public ask me to get involved and no one has asked me."
Regardless of what happens, the public outcry has been heard and will likely not go away any time soon. On the Daily Kos website, as of 11am on Sunday, more than 28,000 people have signed a petition urging Goldsmith the dismiss the case.
"Dear San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith:
Prosecuting people who chalk political messages on vandalism charges is a blatant abuse of power, and sets a dangerous precedent for the First Amendment. Please drop all charges against Jeff Olson immediately."
The jury is expected to reach a verdict in the case in the coming days.
And thanks goes out to journalist Dave Maass for providing information and links used in this story. Thanks!