What are those madcap Singaporeans up to now? Threatening a man with 13 years in prison for writing on a sidewalk? Oh, wait. That’s not Singapore. It’s San Diego, right here in the good old U.S. of A.
And the man facing serious jail time is no kid. He’s 40-year-old Jeffrey Olson, and, as NPR notes, he is on trial for expressing his opinions on sidewalks outside three Bank of America branches. Jury deliberations began Friday. If he is convicted on all 13 counts of vandalism with which has been charged, he could spend the next decade and a third making license plates.
So what’d Olson do: Write something obscene? Use indelible ink? Deface private property? The answers to those three questions are no, no, and no. As he himself freely admits, he always scrawled his messages on city sidewalks, using washable chalk. His messages, moreover, were “never crude, never vulgar, clearly topical.”
Or so Olson told the local CBS affiliate before the judge imposed a gag order on the prosecution and defense.
According to Gawker, Olson expressed his anger over the financial mess that banks got into and the federal bailout they needed in 2008 by writing “No Thanks, Big Banks” and “Shame on Bank of America.”
This case has understandably raised questions about whether authorities should be prosecuting Olson at all. The Union-Tribune writes:
If the city loses the case, it might be chalked up to jurors who question if the city should be spending taxpayer money bringing charges against someone who plied his activism — or vandalism — using something that can be easily washed away with a hose.
During jury selection, Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard asked 12 potential jurors if they thought the case against Olson was a poor use of taxpayer money. At least six of those interviewed said yes. You have to wonder what the remaining six had been smoking.
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