Chalk Another One Up to Free Speech Hypocrisy

From Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting:

June 30, 2013

The Obama administration is increasingly trying to criminalize the release information the government wants kept secret to the press–and has indicated that reporting on such information is a crime as well.

Those are some of the big things the U.S. does to silence journalism it doesn’t like. But you might get a better sense of the state of free expression in the USA from a smaller case that illustrates how far we’ve come from the idea that citizens have a right to let their voices be heard: the case of chalk activist Jeff Olson.

Olson has reportedly admitted writing messages in chalk on sidewalks around Bank of America offices in San Diego, protesting the bank’s role in the financial crisis and urging consumers to move their money into credit unions. For this, San Diego city attorney Jan Goldsmith has brought vandalism charges against Olson that carry a potential sentence of 13 years in jail (San Diego Reader 6/23/13).

The city attorney’s office wanted to make it clear that it would not be arresting kids for playing hopscotch: “The People do not fear that this reading of section 594(A) will make criminals of every child using chalk. Chalk festivals may still be permitted. Kids acting without malice may still engage in their art.” “Without malice,” in this context, means “without political intent”; the city is more or less boasting here that Olson is being punished for the content of his speech–a clear violation of the First Amendment, right?

It doesn’t matter, because the judge in Olson’s case, Howard Shore, has declared his courtroom to be a First Amendment-free zone–granting a prosecutorial motion to forbid Olson from citing in his defense the phrases “First Amendment,” “free speech,” “free expression,” “public forum,” “expressive conduct” or “political speech.” “The State’s Vandalism Statute does not mention First Amendment rights,” Shore ruled (San Diego Reader, 6/25/13).

Complete article at:

See Also:

ABC10 News: Local man found not guilty in chalk vandalism case: Jeffrey Olson not guilty of all 13 charges

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