NBC 7 San Diego
Messages written in chalk in front of the Hall of Justice in downtown San Diego during the 'Chalk-U-Py' protest in support of defendant Jeff Olson.
A group gathered outside the Hall of Justice in downtown San Diego Saturday for a protest that involved a whole lot of chalk.
The “Chalk-U-Py” demonstration began around 3 p.m. and involved organizers, artists, families and civil rights activists protesting the prosecution of a man named Jeff Olson (pictured below), who also attended the event.
Olson was recently prosecuted by the City Attorney’s office for vandalism after writing anti-Wall Street protest messages in chalk on public sidewalks and streets in front of a bank. His case has been dubbed “ChalkGate” by some media outlets.
During a trial, a judge ruled that Olson could not use the First Amendment or Freedom of Speech in his defense.
Olson claimed he faced a sentence of 13 years in prison and $13,000 in fines for the chalk offense, but the true maximum sentence was not revealed.
On Saturday, protesters drew colorful messages in chalk along the sidewalk, including the phrases "This is NOT vandalism" and "Freedom of Speech." Demonstrators also created a chalk mural of the Constitution.
Participant Stephanie Jennings told NBC 7 she, like many others, was there to raise awareness on the importance of free speech and freedom of expression.
“This is a group of people who came to protest because we’re appalled by the City’s decision to charge Jeff Olson, and also [by] the status of our free speech rights in America today,” said Jennings.
Olson -- wearing a piece of duct tape across his mouth with the words “GAG ORDER” written on it -- had little to say at the demonstration, due to court-issued orders.
“My attorney has instructed me as follows: Judge Shore has issued a gag order prohibiting all parties and council from commenting or expressing opinions on this case under penalty of criminal contempt. All am I allowed to say is that I disagree,” Olson said.
With a quick shrug, he put the piece of tape back on his mouth and continued watching as protesters chalked up the sidewalks.
Officers from the San Diego Police Department supervised the gathering. SDPD Capt. Mark Jones said participants were cooperative and the protest was peaceful, with no arrests made.
As for Olson, a jury is now deliberating his fate. Closing arguments were made on Friday.