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Chalkcrime Trial on Valentine's Day

In a time of extreme budget cuts and belt tightening, the Santa Cruz City Attorney's office has found the time and money to prosecute Becky Johnson for using sidewalk chalk on a sidewalk.

Chalk Crime Trial on Valentine's Day

"Commissioner Joseph has no love of the 1st amendment."

--- Robert Norse

Friday, February 14, 2003
Dept. 1, 10 AM

Santa Cruz, Ca. -- As the City of Santa Cruz contemplates school closures, budget cuts, and belt-tightening, one area where no scrimping is occurring is the City Attorney's office of Santa Cruz who has already launched an estimated $10,000 in costs to prosecute local activists Tim Rinker and Becky Johnson for using sidewalk chalk on a sidewalk. Their conviction on September 13, 2002 is being appealed. Not to be dissuaded, the City Attorney will be back in the court of Commissioner Irwin Joseph on Friday, February 14th to prosecute Becky Johnson for two more incidences of using sidewalk chalk.

The City in September called 7 city employees to the stand (all on the taxpayer's dollar) to testify that sidewalk chalk, sold at Palace Arts Stationery under the same name, SOLD is a menace to the City of Santa Cruz and must be stopped, no matter the price. As a war is looming against Iraq, 26 homeless people died in Santa Cruz County this past year, and the Citizens Police Review Board has been eliminated due to budget restraints, justice against sidewalk chalkers will prevail!!!

"I was ticketed on July 21st," defendant Becky Johnson explained. "when the second reading of the anti-homeless downtown ordinances was only 2 days away. These ordinances vastly limit where people can play music, set up a political table, sit, beg, or perform and I was merely chalking the edges of the "safe zones" so that the public could see how small the areas will be." Maps provided by the City showing the safe zones were innacurate. Rinker and Johnson both claim that using sidewalk chalk to write political messages is a first amendment activity, does no damage to the sidewalk, is easily removed, and the ordinance in question makes no mention of sidewalk chalk as a prohibited activity.

"Redevelopment Agency analyst, Julie Hendee testified at my first trial," said Johnson. "She basically said that chalking leads to lawlessness, leads to vandalism, leads to the decline of sales in businesses and leads to loss of revenue for the City. I think that's a pretty big stretch. That's like saying drinking mother's milk in childhood leads to heroin addiction." "Basically what we have is an ordinance which has been on the books unchanged since 1964, but only in the last two or three years have the police begun using this ordinance against sidewalk chalkers. And then only against activists and homeless people."

The Citizens Police Review Board asked City Council to halt any SCPD selective enforcement months before the City Council suddenly eliminated the board -- a resolution buried by the City Council in violation of City Commission procedures.

In Johnson's previous conviction, Commissioner Joseph dismissed Johnson's concerns that she was targeted as a political activist. He ruled for the first time that erasable chalking on the sidewalk was not a constitutionally protected activity. All such chalking apparently now constitutes "defacement" from hopscotch patterns to peace symbols.

"I've been attempting to get discovery on this for my chalking case since November 15th. I asked for the list of prosecutions against chalkers from 1964 to January 2000. In early January, I was assured that while they did not have records that go back to 1964, they do have records that go back the previous ten years. I was told that I need only come down to the police station to pick up the records. But when I went down, they could not find any records for me. Joanne Hopkins of the xxx called me back and said "Our computers don't go back that far." She was only able to give me data for one month, January 2000.

Furthermore, B. Shepardson, the SCPD Records Supervisor in a memo dated 2-13-03 stated "..our new Record's Management System was implemented on January 1, 2000. In addition, the purge criteria for citations for the City of Santa Cruz is two years, therefore all citations prior to January 2001 have been destroyed."

Johnson faces two charges of defacement with sidewalk chalk. The second charge, for writing in the gutter "Are we so mean-spirited that we would deny a homeless person the right to sleep at night, to beg for food with a sign after dark, to sit, or to cover up with a blanket?" involved Ms. Johnson's arrest, handcuffing, booked, jailed, and $1000 bail for misdeanor vandalism. The charge was reduced without explanation to an infraction, defacing the sidewalk.

The trial will be held in Department 1, 701 Ocean St. in Santa Cruz, Ca. near the intersection of Water St. and Ocean St. at 10 AM. on February 14, 2003

Photos of the chalkcrime arrest of Becky Johnson can be viewed at http:/

For more information: Call HUFF (831) 423-HUFF

Becky Johnson can be reached at (831) 429-8529

Attorney Ed Frey, who filed Becky Johnson and Tim Rinker's appeal

can be reached at (831) 479-8911


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Low lifes at city hall

The city of Santa Cruz must be desperate. People on the street,no money for schools, environment needs cleaning up yet they can waste money on busting someone for writing with chalk on the sidewalk.It's so stupid it's almost too much to believe. I could understand a small fine and a warning but jail and $1000 bail. These low lifes at city hall need to go after the corporate crimminals that pollute, and steal from the common folk.


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