Sidewalk “chalk” protest for unemployment benefits becomes a crime

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Every child does it – chalking a sidewalk to play a game or scribbling a name or face. No problem.

But when Occupy Springfield protesters chalked slogans on the sidewalk in front of GOP Congressman Aaron Schock’s district office, it suddenly became a crime.

December 8 was a national day of action demanding jobs and passage of HR 3346, which will prevent unemployment insurance from expiring  for 5 million workers in January. The Springfield & Central Illinois Trades and Labor Council organized an informational picket in front of Schock’s office because he has joined with his Republican colleagues to block the extension and every single proposal for jobs creation by the Obama administration.

Joining the protest was City Council member Doris Turner and Occupy Springfield Illinois (OSI). OSI has worked with the labor movement often, including a recent protest in the state capitol building to block passage of a tax giveaway demanded by Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Sears Holding Co.

Earlier that day, OSI activists Drew Duzinskas and John Keating had chalked the sidewalk in front of Schock’s office with slogans demanding the congressman not let down the unemployed workers including 85,000 in Illinois alone. They expected the drawings would be part of the protest.

But apparently Schock’s office was offended and washed down the sidewalk. Determined to get their message across, Duzinskas and Keating re-chalked the sidewalks during the protest.

After the picket, Schock’s staff removed the messages and complained to police. OSI activists returned later that night to once again re-chalk. This time Springfield police were there and immediately arrested Duzinskas and Keating for “writing large political messages” on the sidewalk.

Duzinskas and Keating were placed in a patrol car as their chalk was confiscated and a police photographer took pictures as if it were a crime scene. A fire truck arrived and firefighters washed down the sidewalk.

Police have given various reasons for the arrests. They told local media the problem was not in the “content of the drawings but repeated complaints.”

Officers told the OSI activists they were being charged with a violation of a city vandalism ordinance despite not being engaged “in the [willful] or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement or defacement of any public or private property.” The offense includes, but is not limited to, cutting, tearing, breaking, marking, drawing or painting when these actions are intended to or have the effect of causing damage to property.

They were fined $500 since the cleanup involved city workers.

Less than a month earlier, anti-abortion groups protesting at Personal PAC’s annual fundraising luncheon where Gov. Pat Quinn presented the “Pro-Choice Achievement Award” had scrawled chalk messages on the sidewalk outside the event. No one was arrested.

Duzinskas told the OSI activists had chalked slogans on the sidewalks in front of Chase Bank earlier this fall. Police stopped by and spoke with them but never indicated they were committing an offense. Duzinskas sees the arrests as a clear violation of freedom of speech and vows to fight it.

“There was no crime committed here,” Terry Reed, president of the Springfield & Central Illinois Trades and Labor Council told the “Millions of Americans are losing their unemployment benefits and having to make rents, Congressman Schock should be using his time to ensure the benefits are extended and not worry about chalk.”

Photo: Occupy Springfield 



John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.