MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
SEE IMPORTANT UPDATE AT END
Jeff Olson, 40, of San Diego is currently on trial for writing messages on sidewalks protesting big banks and their predatory practices. Olson used water soluble chalk to express his advocacy on public walkways in front of three Bank of America branches in San Diego.
Yes, by water soluble it means that when it rains or is hosed down the chalk dissolves.
Months after he finished chalking his protests, he was charged with 13 misdemeanors that could, conceivably, land him in jail for nearly 13 years.
The trial, which is now underway, allegedly resulted from the contracted head of security for Bank of America in San Diego, Darell Freeman, leaning on his apparent former colleagues in the SD police department. Paige Hazard, deputy city attorney, informed Bank of America's local security chief of the charges against Olson, after a prosecution referral was received from -- get this -- the city's gang crimes unit. Olson had moved onto more personal pursuits months ago, but Freeman and the Bank of America didn't like his disappearing chalk protests during the Occupy movement and. as in Les Miserables, were in unrelenting hot pursuit of the sidewalk protestor.
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Hazard justifies the prosecution, on behalf of City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, with this twisted astonishing argument as filed in a court document:
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. Circumventing the rules, without permission, under the color of night, and now waiving a banner of the First Amendment, does not negate the fact that defacement occurred, a private business suffered real and substantial monetary damages, and Defendant is responsible. (Italics inserted by BuzzFlash at Truthout.)
Mind you, it is worth noting again that the chalk writing was easily removed and would likely wear away quickly as people walked over it. But even arguing that point gives credibility to a profound and Orwellian waste of taxpayer dollars in even prosecuting this case.
If Bank of America feels that it suffered "real and substantial monetary" damages as a result of Olson's scrawls, let them prove it. That's not the business of a public prosecutor to pursue.
But of course the Bank of America is still a bank too big to fail and there are first amendment rights to protest private businesses unless they can show that liable has occurred that impacted their financial well being. That is hardly the case in the San Diego chalk protest prosecution.
If you wonder about how far the apparatus of the state has crossed over into protecting wealth over protecting constitutional rights, look no further than the case of Jeff Olson.
A San Diego television station reported this chilling twist to the opening of the trial on June 26:
During pre-trial motions prosecutors introduced a motion to prohibit Olson’s defense attorney Tom Tosdal from using the words First Amendment, free speech, free expression and other similar terms during the trial. The judge agreed saying jurors should focus on whether Olson committed vandalism and not why he did it.
This is happening in a court of law? The protection of banks from chalk scrawlings supercedes the Constitution?
So it would appear as we further proceed down the road of our nation being transformed from the rule of law to the rule of protecting entrenched wealth and corporate power.
THURSDAY EVENING UPDATE: The presiding judge in this farce of a trial -- and a waste of taxpayer dollars on prosecution -- issued a gag order on Thursday for the defendant and almost everybody but himself. The clearly pro-bankster jurist even rebuked the mayor of San Diego for calling the trial a waste of time.
San Diego Mayor Filner had issued a statement the irked the San Diego judicial version of Supreme Court Justice Alito:
This young man [Olson] is being persecuted for thirteen counts of vandalism stemming from an expression of political protest that involved washable children's chalk on a City sidewalk. It is alleged that he has no previous criminal record. If these assertions are correct, I believe this is a misuse and waste of taxpayer money. It could also be characterized as an abuse of power that infringes on First Amendment particularly when it is arbitrarily applied to some, but not all, similar speech.
As one commenter noted in the June 27 San Diego Reader update about Judge Howard Shore's judicial stomping on the First Amendement: "Just when you think it can't get any nuttier, it does. A gag order for a misdemeanor case?"
According to another commenter, Mass. Senator Elizabeth Warren read about Olson's plight and allegedly tweeted, "You've got to be kidding me.
How impartial can the judge be when he is so biased?
(Photo: Robert Couse-Baker)