John Colson: Chalking a sidewalk is a crime now?
June 25, 2018
I see in the news that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU, to all you acronym lovers out there) has signed on to represent Shauna Johnson, a woman from Castle Pines who has been charged with a misdemeanor after she wrote a protest message in chalk on a sidewalk in front of the Castle Rock office of U.S. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Greeley) earlier this month.
According to news reports, Johnson and her two young children went to Buck's office earlier this month (Castle Pines is to the north of Castle Rock) to protest President Donald Trump's policy of separating children from their parents when the parents are arrested for allegedly trying to enter the U.S. illegally.
That policy, which Trump recently disavowed and apparently halted, has sparked continuous outraged denunciations from Democrats, Republicans and just about anyone with an ounce of compassion in their hearts for the plight of Central American refugees.
Of course, Trump tried to blame former President Barack Obama for the policy, but nobody believed that for a minute except for the deep-red zealots, Tea Partiers and others who make up the 90 percent of Republicans avowing total support for Trump no matter what insane thing he does.
And apparently a staffer in Buck's office feels the same as Trump does, because he reportedly defended the policy and the separations, calling the uproar an example of "fake news" before ending a meeting with Johnson.
It was after that, as she was leaving the building and picked up a bag of chalk her daughter had dropped, that Johnson wrote, in chalk on the sidewalk, "Stop putting kids in jail Ken Buck" and signed it with the name, "Jesus" and a small cross.
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That was enough for building's managers to conclude she could be a menace to the peace and harmony of Castle Rock, and to call out the law. A deputy later showed up at Johnson's home with a summons ordering her to appear in court a charge of "criminal tampering," a misdemeanor that the officer came up with because the chalking "may have been on private property."
I, for one, am glad the ACLU is on the case, because Johnson faces as much as a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for merely expressing her opinion on a matter of national interest.
As one attorney noted after the incident, this is believed to be an unprecedented use of the strong arm of the law in prosecuting someone for inscribing a public sidewalk with chalk. This attorney, who is working on the case with the ACLU, was quoted as saying, "Clearly, this criminal charge is a response to the content of her message, not the conduct itself."
Along those lines, one has to wonder how many children have been hauled before a local judge for playing the old kid's game of Hopscotch, which entails drawing a diagram with chalk on a sidewalk and then hopping along the squares of the diagram.
My guess would be not many, for several reasons.
For one thing, chalk soon washes off a sidewalk and does no permanent damage.
For another, it's just a kids' game and who in their right mind would want to put a kid through the trauma of a visit from the police and a ticket for something so harmless?
Well, maybe in our new atmosphere of intolerance and violence in political discourse, such outrageously inappropriate conduct is more likely than it ever was before.
Perhaps a rabid proponent of keeping kids locked up all the time for their own good can make a case that Hopscotch is a violation of adults' right to walk on an unbesmirched sidewalk and should be punishable in some way, particularly if the kids are heard to be chanting an anti-Trump slogan as they hop along.
It remains unclear whether Buck was involved in having the cops called in, or if he was even in his office.
But whoever it was sure didn't do Buck any favors, at least as far as this year's election is concerned.
In checking out the comments sections of different online reports about Johnson's arrest, there were a few Tea Party types who put her right up there with Clinton and Obama as an example of all that is heinous and wrong with the world. But most were wondering how this rose to the level of criminal behavior.
Buck's office tried to do a little damage control releasing a statement that Buck "appreciates civic engagement and encourages his constituents to voice their opinions respectfully," which sounds to me like code for "don't you dare say anything critical about such-and-such or you'll be find yourself out in the cold."
To me, the whole thing smacks of an attempt to shut Johnson's mouth.
Or, as she said to an interviewer, "I'm scared, because I've never been threatened or intimidated like this before in my life. … As an American I have the right to free speech. And in all honesty, I feel like all they're trying to do is bully me into being quiet about a very serious issue."
Couldn't have said it better myself.
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