In an obvious and ridiculous attempt to intimidate them into ending their efforts to bring attention to the history of abuses, corruption, and outright murders by Las Vegas area police and a total lack of accountability for such by those that oversee local police departments, three members of the Sunset Activist Collective were given citations for “graffiti” based on writing with washable sidewalk chalk. (See below for video of the incident.)
J.R. Dazo, Kelly W. Patterson, and Ballentine, who have since been dubbed the “Sunset 3” were participating in Nevada Cop Block‘s monthly anti-police brutality protest and vigil known as “Second Saturdays” in front of the LVMPD’s headquarters on June 8th. As has been the case for about nine months, this protest included writing out the crimes of the police, listing the names of their victims, and posting our demands for reconciliation with the citizens of Las Vegas.
Normally, outside of some dirty looks by the cops at the offices as they drive past and almost without exception supporting comments from passersby, no-one bothers the people participating in these protests. It is supported by and often attended by the family members of people who have fallen victim to police violence. However on this particular day, Sgt Michael Wallace approached them and claimed that writing with chalk that is marketed as and named for the very purpose it was being used for was illegal and constituted graffiti and that they had to stop.
After being told that they wouldn’t stop because it was in fact legal, Sgt Wallace responded that he’s an expert on graffiti because he works for the gang unit. While it’s rare and somewhat commendable of Sgt. Wallace to admit that the police are actually a gang, it’s pretty unlikely that street gangs are using children’s chalk for their graffiti these days. Sgt. Wallace’s next assertion was to insist “that’s what the courts are for,” which is also incorrect. The courts don’t exist so random cops can just disregard the actual law, declare something they don’t like illegal, and then issue fines for it. Part of a police officer’s job description is to know the laws and to apply them properly not to drum up bogus reasons to cite people when he disagrees with the messages they are conveying.
After asserting his expertise in the laws concerning graffiti (even though he couldn’t cite a specific law regarding chalk constituting graffiti), Mike Wallace then returned to his car to write citations. However, he stayed in his car for an inordinately long time (the unofficial estimate was 45 minutes) talking on the phone. During this time, Ballentine called into the non-emergency LVMPD phone line and asked a dispatcher if drawing with chalk was illegal, to which he was told, “I don’t think that is a crime.”
Shortly after this extended wait, Detective Matchko of the gang unit arrived and Mike Wallace informed us that his supervisor was on the way, even though he had refused to call a supervisor when requested earlier, because he “is THE supervisor.” Once that supervisor, Lt. John Liberty, arrived he basically confirmed what had already been assumed regarding the lengthy delay, which was that Mike Wallace had been unable to figure what to write up as a charge on the citations. In all likelihood, the dispatcher had told him the same thing she told Ballentine earlier. Lt. Liberty stated that he had needed to call both a district attorney and a judge to get advice on whether they should issue citations for drawing on a sidewalk with sidewalk chalk.
In spite of being informed of previous court cases in which it had already been found that chalking is a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment, Lt. liberty and Mike Wallace insisted that it was a citable offense under anti-graffiti laws. Their main justification was that the city has to pay to a have a cleaning crew come down and wash the chalk. However, the truth is it would take no more than a bucket of water to remove the chalk and, outside of the fact that the cops would like to avoid having attention drawn to their crimes, there’s no real reason that the city would need to pay to make sure the chalk is gone a couple days earlier than it would be removed naturally by the a combination of the nearby sprinklers and the wind.
Essentially, it amounts to a form of censorship since the reason the citations were issued wasn’t because of the legality of writing on a sidewalk with sidewalk chalk, but rather for what was being written. In addition, it is nothing more than a continuation of the cover ups on behalf of Las Vegas area cops that murder members of our community at an increasingly regular frequency.
Statement of Solidarity and Unity from the Sunset Activist Collective
Earlier this week the Sunset Activist Collective released a statement urging the community to show their support for the three members that were cited and vowing not to be dissuaded from bringing attention to the LVMPD’s crimes, regardless of the outcome:
“On July 18, three members of the Sunset Activist Collective will go before a Judge to answer the ridiculous charges that drawing on a sidewalk with chalk constitutes graffiti. That’s right! According to the LVMPD, sidewalk chalk is now illegal.
JR Dazo, Kelly W. Patterson, and Ballentine were cited during the “Second Saturday” anti-police brutality protest, organized by Nevada Cop Block (NVCopBlock.org), on June 8th for doing exactly that. As a result, they could all face fines of between $400 and $1,000, 100 hours of community service, and the suspension of their drivers licenses for two years.
This however is not the issue. The issue is the preservation of free speech for everyone, the ability of children to use sidewalk chalk, and the very idea of seeking justice for the victims of pig police in a peaceful way.
The obvious reality is that these bogus charges are truly based on the fact that Metro wants to dissuade us from bringing attention to the fact that its department has become one of the most prolific across the entire country in regards to police brutality and outright murder. They rank among the top in every category related to police violence. yet they continue to employ a stubborn unwillingness to hold any of the murders in their midst accountable for their crimes.
Regardless of what underhanded and over-reaching legal tactics they employ to try and keep us quiet, we intend to continue exposing the LVMPD for the violent criminal gang that it is. In fact, we feel that if anything this is just an indicator that we have been successful in our efforts to seek justice for Eric Scott, Stanley Gibson, Emmanuel Dozier, Trevon Cole, Tanner Chamberlain, and all the other victims of the Las Vegas Metropolitan police Department. We neither be bullied nor threatened into silence. In all likelihood, regardless of the actual outcome this will serve as an even bigger opportunity to bring attention to Metro’s crimes and Sheriff Gillespie’s unwillingness to hold anyone accountable for them.
In regards to the actual merits of these charges, it’s already been ruled in a case in Berkeley (by the 9th Circuit, which also has jurisdiction in Las Vegas) that “no reasonable person could conclude that chalk would damage a sidewalk” and by a federal judge in Orlando that chalking constitutes free speech protected under the First Amendment. So we have no only common sense, but case history on our side.
Please join us and help preserve the ability to seek justice in a peaceful, public manner against those within the Las Vegas are police, who have made injustice a part of their job description.“
The Video (With Bonus Footage)
Embedded below is the entire encounter with Mike Wallace with the exception of the first couple of minutes when he initially approached and the times when he was at his car on the phone trying to figure out some justification to write tickets for drawing with chalk so that he wouldn’t have to come back and tell us we were right. In addition, there are two segments at the end, which repeat some of the full video and in which the audio is somewhat better.
The striking thing about this video is the level to which Sgt. Mike Wallace is flustered and at times downright confused and yet determined to follow through on writing citations for something, regardless of the actual legality of this protest.