EDITORIAL: Charges against protesters rightly dropped

You couldn’t have drawn up a more ridiculous prosecution.

A handful of peaceful local demonstrators, protesting Las Vegas police shootings, delivered their messages last month with washable chalk on the sidewalks outside police headquarters and the Regional Justice Center. Officers clearly weren’t happy with the criticism, so they treated the protesters as if they were taggers. Graffiti Gate was born.

Then the city of Las Vegas got involved. Instead of simply leaving the chalk alone to be washed, swept or blown away, police called a city graffiti abatement team to powerwash the sidewalks. The city’s trumped-up bill: $1,500. That threshold led to gross misdemeanor charges being filed against four defendants, and a 17-year-old faced similar juvenile prosecution. The charges could have put the adults in jail for a year — a year! — for doing what countless children do every day in every city.

Thanks to the pro bono efforts of attorney Robert Langford, and the common sense of District Attorney Steve Wolfson, the case is no more. Mr. Wolfson announced Wednesday that the charges would be dismissed. The key piece of evidence uncovered by Mr. Langford: The protesters were directed by courthouse marshals to chalk in a specific area outside the RJC.

“There wasn’t expressed permission, but there was implied permission to use the chalk on the sidewalk outside the courthouse,” Mr. Wolfson said.

In reality, the case never should have made it to Mr. Wolfson’s desk. Police pursued the charges because officers didn’t like what the protesters wrote. One sidewalk chalker spent two days in jail, and another spent four days in jail as a result. Drunken drivers and domestic abusers spend less time in the can. No one should have been arrested for engaging in activity obviously protected by the First Amendment. Because of that, Mr. Langford is planning to pursue a federal civil rights case against the police.

Kudos to all parties for ending this foolish waste of public resources. However, the Review-Journal has been unable to confirm whether the Las Vegas police SWAT team will be deployed to the 19th annual Summerlin Art Festival, to be held Oct. 12-13 at the Summerlin Centre Community Park.

The headline event: a sidewalk chalk competition.


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