Chalkupy Orange County: Is Chalking Considered an Illegal Act of Vandalism in OC?

Police overreaction to chalk in downtown Los Angeles? (Occupy LA Facebook page)
Police overreaction to chalk in downtown Los Angeles? (Occupy LA Facebook page)

The streets of downtown Los Angeles resembled something of a war zone during the Art Walk on July 12. About 25 members of Occupy Los Angeles brought chalk to the monthly event to spread awareness of over a dozen vandalism arrests of Occupy LA members for chalking the past month at their Central City Association (CCA) occupation dealing with homeless rights and gentrification in the downtown LA area. Art Walk attendees participated in chalking, which led to an increased police presence in the area.   


George Olivo from Occupy Orange County witnessed the scene firsthand. After riot police arrived, he said, about 500 attendees of the Art Walk gathered at the intersection of 5th and Spring. According to the Los Angeles Times, nine out of 19 arrests that night were for vandalism. At least three individuals were reportedly shot with rubber bullets.

It was when non-Occupy affiliated Art Walk attendees witnessed riot police presence and subsequent alleged violent arrests when things got out of control, Olivo said. 

"It was terrifying," Olivo said. "I saw women crying and hysterical. For a minute, it seemed like we were all going to die. I know that sounds extreme but when police are shooting, you don't know what's going to happen. It was horrible."   

Videos and blogs corroborate with Olivo's account of the chaotic scene, as well as a half-dozen attendees of the July 12 Art Walk OC Weekly has spoken to. Sources have told OC Weekly bottles were thrown by after-party goers and residents from high-rise apartments after riot police arrived. 

Since chalking arrests of mostly non-Occupiers riled up so many of our neighboring Angelenos that night, it has left many wondering: is chalking indeed considered illegal vandalism?   

Recently, Orange County residents have used chalk to write messages in Irvine and Fullerton as a result of the local Occupy and Justice for Kelly Thomas movements.
Chalkupy Orange County: Is Chalking Considered an Illegal Act of Vandalism in OC?
Irvine City Hall, June 2012 (Photo courtesy of Jeff Swietlik)


One member of Occupy OC chalked "Long Live Occupy" in the front of the Irvine City Hall plaza last month, which was promptly washed off by another member. Supporters of justice for Kelly Thomas have chalked inspirational messages in front of a memorial at the Fullerton Bus Depot this summer, as well on the sidewalk in front of the PÄS Gallery.  

Fullerton Police Cpl. Tim Kandler told OC Weekly for vandalism charge to be considered, there would have to be permanent damage. Although this would be considered on a case-by-case basis, to his knowledge the chalk in front of the Kelly Thomas memorial and PÄS Gallery is not vandalism, since it is washable chalk.  

"If it's spray paint or something that permanently damages property, then you can get arrested for vandalism," Kandler said. 

Irvine Police Lt. Julia Engen said arrests based on chalking in Irvine is situational. Engen said she can only speak of the chalking incident that happened at the end of last month by a member of Occupy OC, where no incident took place.  

"Could they have been arrested? Sure, they could have," she said. "But we were not standing over them, telling them to wash it off or we will arrest them. Because of our unique relationship with the [Occupy] protesters, one of them voluntarily washed off the chalk before there was any problem." 

Engen cited California Penal Code 594 as chalking falling under the label of graffiti. While Occupiers have cited a 1995 United States Court of Appeals court ruling where sidewalk chalking was not found to be vandalism, the state law has since changed to include any unauthorized mark on a surface you do not own; however malicious intent would have to be proved in court.   

Whether or not someone is a protester would not affect if an individual can be arrested for chalking as vandalism and in general the activity is not recommended, Lt. Engen added.

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