How Legal Protest Is Being Criminalized By Big Business And Its Allies

The man caught on camera writing on the sidewalk in front of Bank of America with chalk, who was arrested and then acquitted of 13 charges of vandalism.

The man arrested for writing on a sidewalk with chalk in front of Bank of America was acquitted for all 13 counts of vandalism Monday. Security Camera footage of Jeff Olson, from the San Diego Reader

Last week we reported on the San Diego man being prosecuted for writing in chalk on the sidewalk in front of Bank Of America branches. I am happy to report that Jeff Olson was acquitted on all 13 charges of vandalism on Monday. Even without being able to refer to free speech or political protest, defense attorney Tom Tosdal was able to convince a jury that Olson was not “maliciously defacing” the sidewalk but was, instead, informing the public about the bank who, Olson says, “nearly drove our economy into the ditch.” The bank lost this time but they will undoubtedly continue to try to stifle protest whenever they can.

And it’s not just banks. Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett also seems to approve of using vindictive arrests and charges to stifle citizens. Last week, a Lansing man who was participating in a sit-in at the State Capitol was the latest victim. He was among a dozen demonstrators who were kicked out of the capitol building. Not so easily deterred, some of the group continued their protest in front of the governor’s mansion. One of the activists, AJ Marin, wrote on the sidewalk with chalk and was arrested for writing “a derogatory remark” about the governor. What was that remark? “Governor Corbett has health care, we should too.” Yep, that’s shocking and horrible, all right (insert eye-roll here). So much so that Marin was issued a citation, arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Thin skin, much, Governor?

This sort of childishly punitive use of law enforcement was used extensively on the Occupy Wall Street protestors in New York City and elsewhere. Some of the things the police would arbitrarily hand out tickets or citations for in an effort to crack down on the protests included: no-sleeping ordinances, rules about umbrellas, burn bans, rules against masks, private belongings in a public space, and no amplification. The government uses anti-terror laws to shut down dissent as well.

Most of this came to light after the biggest wave of Occupy protests, in documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. As Naomi Wolf reported:

“The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves –was coordinated with the big banks themselves… The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens.”

It would appear that this has never really stopped. As long as the banks and other corporate interests are the subject of protest, they will surely request the support of the government in stifling the voices of the citizenry. Whether it’s writing on a sidewalk in chalk, staging a sit-in or holding signs and chanting, the merger of bank and state power will do its best to keep us quiet. Which means we need to be even louder.