The Chalk Menace: Pennsylvania Man Charged With Writing On Public Sidewalk In Front Of Governor’s Mansion

chalking1It appears there is a thin chalk line between us and anarchy. Police in various states are cracking down on a criminal epidemic sweeping the nation: sidewalk chalk protesters. We just discussed the case of a California man who was not only arrested but hit with 13 charges for writing protests in chalk in front of a Bank of America. Now in Pennsylvania, a blog is reporting that AJ Martin, a health care protester, has been arrested for disorderly conduct for writing the above statement on the public sidewalk in front of the home of Governor Tom Corbett.

Martin was protesting the possible failure to expand medicare in the state and its impact on 700,000 uninsured Pennsylvania citizens. The officer wrote that Martin wrote a “derogatory remark about the governor on the sidewalk.” That remark seems less derogatory than merely descriptive: “Governor Corbett has health insurance, we should too.” Moreover, writing something derogatory is not particularly relevant to a disorderly conduct charge unless the officer was also merely being descriptive.

It is hard to see how writing this line meets the definition under the state law:

§ 5503. Disorderly conduct.
(a) Offense defined.–A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he:
(1) engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior;
(2) makes unreasonable noise;
(3) uses obscene language, or makes an obscene gesture; or
(4) creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.

220px-TomCorbett-McCainRally2008_flippedThe reference to the character of the message makes it sound a lot like content-based enforcement. If Martin wrote “Governor Corbett rocks,” would it still have been a disorderly act?


29 thoughts on “The Chalk Menace: Pennsylvania Man Charged With Writing On Public Sidewalk In Front Of Governor’s Mansion”

  1. In the San Diegp case, the defendant is facing 13 years in jail due to 13 charges of vandalism. One would hope that the sentences could run concurrently, or be dropped altogether, but that’s the maximum being mentioned. Also, the judge, from what I’ve read, has refused to let his attorney mention “first amendment” rights.

  2. I will be highly disappointed with our courts system if this case does not get dismissed. Seriously, its chalk on the sidewalk. Are my children going to get charged for drawing on the “wrong” sidewalk?

    1. It is a misdemeanor or a felony to have sex with another species. The condemning Legal system will demonize anything demonizing any kind of sex or being nude as the day you were born. The legal system attacking them means anything to them is fair game.

  3. I’ve always said freedom of speech was a lie. There is no freedom of chalk either. Chalk up another lie concerning freedom of speech. There is no freedom of chalk or talk. What are police going to do now that is on the books; arrest teachers for using chalk? Good health care practitioners for all ages now on a list on upcspine or upper cervical health centers put in your zip code.

  4. Gov. Corbett is one tea party republican governor that is on his way out in 2014.

  5. There was no crime here. The act does not fit the elements of the crime of Disorderly Conduct. Since the officers could not satisfy a malicious mischief charge, they chose instead disorderly conduct which many will use as a catch-all type of charge.

    I wonder if this charge even lasted through arraignment.

  6. What people insult our government? Terrorists do! Praise the Company. Er, I mean Government.

  7. I expect this charge of disorderly conduct will be thrown out. Nothing disorderly here. Wrong charge. Vandalism maybe, but the defacement was not permanent, so what is the harm?

  8. Writing with sidewalk chalk of todays kind which easily is washed away by a hose, or the next rain, should be protected as free speech. This is not graffiti in the classic sense, because spray paint was hard and costly to remove. How sensitive our political leaders have become to any criticism, valid though it may be. How avid some of our prosecutor’s have become to overcharge people who are clearly not criminals. This is not our Father’s America, or perhaps it is and growing up we didn’t notice it as much.

  9. San Diego has a similar issue. Guy was scrawling with chalk on sidewalks in front of banks, specifically BofA, about misdeeds regarding mortgages. Being charged with vandalism, even though chalk was water soluable. Having trouble seating a jury because when asked if they think the trial is a “massive waste of time” potential jurors are almost all answering “yes.”

  10. Just have so old curmudgeonly guy w/ a garden hose wash it off and be done w/ it. Win/win.

  11. He needs to demand a jury trial and call the Governor as his witness. Ask Corbett or whatever his name is if he has free healthcare on the public dime. Ask him if he was offended by the words. Bring a chalkboard to court. Occupy the streets outside the Governor’s Mansion. What is a Meistersinger?

  12. So now washable chalk is a crime if you tell the truth…. Sig Heil….Der Meistersinger ….. Der Fuhuer…..

  13. “A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance”

    Truth is annoying and inconvenient to public officials in power.

    The Laws are morphing into protections for Corporations and Political Agendas. The idea that the Law is for the Common good of the commons is becoming quaint and “oh so” 1900s.

  14. So let’s see… corporations can give large amounts of cash to elected officials and spend obscene amounts of money on their behalf, and that’s called free speech.

    Protesters, angered by American foreign policy, can burn an American flag, and that’s protected speech under the Constitution. But chalk? In the public way? Welcome to Tea Party Amerika.

    This case really is about the message. And the message is shut up or you’ll be hassled to the fullest extent of the law. Of course, we know the case will be dismissed; it’s really all about the inconvenience of being arrested, posting bail, and appearing in court. This time. Once the government has fully outsourced it’s internment network, all bets are off, and that’s when the disappearances will begin.

    It’ll be interesting to see what action is taken with the arresting officer, whether he gets a reprimand or a promotion.

  15. “There are men – now in power in this country – who do not respect dissent, who cannot cope with turmoil, and who believe that the people of America are ready to support repression as long as it is done with a quiet voice and a business suit.” – John Lindsay

  16. Chalk is known to provoke mental illness.

    All right thinking Amukans are glad that the freedom doctors stopped this outbreak before if became an epidemic.

  17. Our political leaders want to be immune from criticism at all times. Free speech is “cherished” as long as you stay in your pen and aren’t too loud.

    What ever happened to “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”?

  18. Chalk is a menace to the American people.
    Chalk hates our Freedoms.
    Chalk wants to eat your children, rape your livestock and kick Baby Jesus.
    Such a threat to our phony baloney jobs way of life will not be tolerated.
    When expressing a political opinion in an impermanent medium is criminalized only criminals will be expressing political opinion in an impermanent medium.
    It’s time for a War on Chalk ™(c).


    Your Political Leaders and the Corporations That Buy Them

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