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Chalk, chalk

A quartet of Las Vegas activists were arrested over the last week and charged with defacing property and conspiracy. Their crime? Criticizing Metro in chalk on the sidewalk.

Metro, which is seeking a .15 percent sales tax increase to hire more officers, has been criticized by various observers for its use of force. Earlier this month, six members of a review board quit after Sheriff Doug Gillespie overruled a recommendation to fire a police officer who shot an unarmed man last year.

In response to the ongoing concerns among some community members on the department's use of force, a group of young activists have gathered outside Metro’s offices on Martin Luther King Boulevard, chalking various accusations: “Chalk washes off, injustice never will”; “Justice for whom?”; “Stop police brutality”; and “Justice for Stanley Gibson — Gulf War vet murdered by Metro.” (Stanley Gibson, an unarmed and distraught veteran, was shot and killed by a Metro officer after refusing to exit his car last year.)

Brian Ballentine and Kelly Patterson, who have regularly chalked those sidewalks, were arrested and charged with defacing public property and conspiring to commit nonfelony crime — i.e., graffiti with chalk, on Aug. 10. Three days later, their fellow Sunset Activist Collective members Hailee Jewell and Catalino de la Cruz Dazo Jr, who were attending Ballentine and Patterson's court hearing, chalked up the Regional Justice Center downtown, which got them arrested, too. If convicted, the four face various penalties including up to a year in the Clark County Detention Center.

They're being represented by Robert Langford, a well-known Las Vegas civil rights attorney, who told the Review-Journal that Metro's claim that the cost of removing the chalk, at more than $1,500, was preposterous and the chalk statements could be removed with a stiff broom.

Metro spokesman Larry Hadfield said he was not aware of the details of the arrests, but he said local and state law is clear, and doesn’t differentiate between chalk or spray paint: Defacing public property, including a sidewalk, and carrying implements such as a marker or some other object designed to apply graffiti, is illegal.

Jennifer Harney, a spokeswoman for the chalkers, said the arrests were an effort to shut down the free-speech rights of the protesters. She said a bucket of water would wipe away the graffiti.  “What are they being arrested for,” she asked, “conspiracy to chalk?”