How much time do you think you could get for writing anti-bank messages on a sidewalk? Jeff Olson, a 40-year-old man who is being prosecuted for just that, is facing 13 years in jail and a $13,000 fine.
Over the course of about two years the man protested outside of a local Bank of America branch, sometimes using sidewalk chalk to leave behind scribbled slogans such as “Stop big banks” and “Stop Bank Blight.com.”
According to a damning report via the San Diego Reader:
Jan Goldsmith’s job as City Attorney is to represent the City of San Diego. In addition, it appears as if his office is also fully prepared to stand up for the little…rather, the big banks.
On Tuesday, the City Attorney’s Office will make their case for prosecution of a 40-year-old man for writing anti-bank slogans in water soluble chalk on the sidewalk outside of three Bank of America branches in Mid-City.
This week, North Park resident Jeff Olson will appear in court to fight a charge of 13 counts of misdemeanor vandalism charges for writing protest slogans in chalk from February to August 2012. The charges could send Olson to jail for 13 years and put him on the hook for $13,000 in restitution to the City and to Bank of America.
Olson, a former staffer for a U.S. Senator from Washington, began to get involved in political activism around the time that Occupy Wall Street was in full swing. But for him, sleeping in a tent downtown or singing along to protest songs was not the right strategy.
Furthermore, because Olson is being tried for vandalism for using the water soluble chalk to criticize the bank, Judge Howard Shore, who is presiding over the case, prohibited Olson’s attorney from mentioning the United States’ fundamental First Amendment rights in his client’s defense.
“The State’s Vandalism Statute does not mention First Amendment rights,” ruled Judge Shore on Tuesday.
“I’ve never heard that before, that a court can prohibit an argument of First Amendment rights,” Olson’s attorney Tom Tosdal later said of the judge’s decision.
Bank of America received $45 billion in interest-free loans from the U.S. government in 2008-2009 in a bid to keep it solvent after it made bad investments.