SPRINGFIELD, IL. – Thursday night the price of “free” speech was determined by two of Springfield’s finest. The cost totaled up to $1,000.00, or $500.00 for each of the two members of Occupy Springfield IL. (OSI) caught chalking Representative Schock’s sidewalk, in the front of his office. The OSI members had come back to replace chalk that had been erased earlier in the day during a rally to support an extension of Unemployment Benefits. The message these two gentlemen were trying to get across to the Congressman was that Illinois’ over 85 thousand unemployed workers need to be supported by extending their unemployment benefits while they seek new jobs.
The two members who were chalking their message in front of Schock’s office were approached by police and immediately handcuffed without warning of any kind. J.J. Keating had this to say about the incident, “The first thing they said was, ‘put your hands behind your back,’ to Drew. Then [as] I walked up, the officer asked if [I] had been chalking as well, I said yes sir.”
J.J. then tried to send out a text to let people in OSI know what was happening and the Lieutenant took his phone and said to him, “You do not have the right to a phone call,” after which the Lieutenant placed the phone in J.J.’s pocket. At this point both Drew Duzinskas and J.J. Keating were put in separate police cars and left to sit there. Luckily for members of the OSI, J.J. has a bad shoulder and cannot be cuffed behind his back, and so was able to send a picture of the car he was in and let the group know via Facebook what had happened. After an hour the two men were released with vandalism tickets for having written on the sidewalk.
When the other members of OSI found out what was happening they went into an uproar, after all, the group uses a water soluble homemade version of the sidewalk chalk that is sold by most major retailers. According to Springfield’s city Ordinance vandalism is listed as: “A person commits vandalism when he engages in the [willful] or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement or defacement of any public or private property. This offense includes, but is not limited to, cutting, tearing, breaking, marking, drawing or painting when these actions are intended to or have the effect of causing damage to property.” By law in order to be vandalizing property the assailant would need to be in possession of “a spray paint container, liquid paint or any marker containing a fluid which is not water soluble and has a point, brush, applicator or other writing surface of ½-inch or greater, in any public building or upon any public facility or private property with intent to use the same to deface the said building, facility or property.” Words in bold are highlights made by this writer to show specific wording. Also, the two men were not charged with possession with the intent to vandalize showing that the cops themselves knew the law.
Just as the two men were being released the Springfield Fire Department arrived, in the rain/snow the city experienced that night, and began to use fire hoses to remove the chalk. This seems to be a waste of the city’s money, since after all it was raining and the chalk would have just washed off over the course of the evening.
An OSI member interviewed the two men who were detained and they both had opinions about what happened. Drew stated, “I feel upset that my First Amendment Right was being stripped away. I feel violated, because of the harassment of law enforcement actions.”
J.J. had this to say about what happened, “I was very surprised when I was detained for ‘writing large political messages’ with washable sidewalk chalk in front of Schock’s office. I personally had been informed [by the SPD, via telephone] that being non-permanent, sidewalk chalk was not vandalism.” Also, earlier this morning he stated, “I feel that since we had the chalk and they didn’t charge us with possession with intent to deface that they’re admitting there was no defacement, therefore no vandalism [occurred].”
The entire OSI group is wondering if the police will next be after teachers for possession of chalk, or if they will begin to ticket children who routinely draw on the sidewalks in front of their homes and at parks.
Local news coverage of this incident, please note that a quote from Cliff Busher, Deputy Chief of the Springfield Police Department, in the State Journal-Register stated “[Buscher] said officers were at the congressman’s office, 235 S. Sixth St., around 5:20 p.m. on a complaint of political messages being written on the sidewalk in chalk.” And yet we are told that it was not the content of the chalk that drove this incident… :