Chalk talk: Protest shames police, city

We have a front-runner for Best Protest Ever.

About 50 people braved the August afternoon heat Saturday to shame the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the city of Las Vegas for the overreaching, overcharging, over-the-top prosecution of four people who used sidewalk chalk to criticize police shootings.

Kelly Wayne Patterson, Brian Ballentine, Hailee Jewell and Catalino de la Cruz Dazo Jr. face multiple graffiti charges for writing on the sidewalks outside Las Vegas police headquarters and the Regional Justice Center last month. Some of the statements contained obscenities, but because they exercised their First Amendment rights with washable chalk, they were easily erased. In fact, one passer-by got rid of a message by dumping coffee on it.

But police couldn’t leave the peaceful protest alone. They called the city’s graffiti abatement team to power wash the chalk from the sidewalks — and the city charged $1,550 for the service, a fee that would make a Pentagon purchaser blush. That bill elevated the charges from misdemeanors to gross misdemeanors.

So a new batch of protesters showed up outside police headquarters on Martin Luther King Boulevard, this time to stand up for free speech, chalk drawings and cheap cleanups.

Certainly, other protests over the years have attracted wider participation and addressed far greater injustices. Although such large demonstrations can send a powerful message of community outrage, signs and chanted slogans are hardly dynamic.

Saturday’s protesters proved the foolishness of the police and city actions by mixing common sense with a sense of humor. Rally participants, including small children, scribbled and wrote all over the sidewalks outside police headquarters. Then they held a reverse auction to see who could clean up the chalk for the lowest price, with the bidding starting at $1,500.

Unlike city employees, who clearly wanted to use the most expensive cleanup method possible, the protesters saw virtue in going cheap. Protester Jennifer Harney spent $8.65 on tap water, carried in reused plastic bottles, and brooms from a dollar store. They literally swept the chalk away.

Of course, anyone who has children knows the drill. Sidewalk chalk is one of the easiest cleanups around. If you’re not inclined to use a hose and a broom, foot traffic, vehicle traffic, wind and rain eventually will make chalk creations disappear.

If only this case would do the same. Everything about this prosecution is wrong. It’s beyond silly. It’s beyond a waste of resources. It’s dumb. All charges against the chalkers should be dropped. Saturday’s wonderful protest made that clear.


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