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Chalk art protest outside bank leads to vandalism arrest

An artist whose painting of a burning bank drew scrutiny from Los Angeles police last year said he has again come in contact with the law, this time after chalking on a sidewalk.

In a video posted on his website, 42-year-old Alex Schaefer said he was arrested outside the Chase bank at 6th and Figueroa streets in downtown Los Angeles on Monday afternoon for chalking on the sidewalk in what he called a "great form of protest."

Los Angeles Police Sgt. Ronald Crump confirmed that Schaefer was arrested at the site about 12:30 p.m. on suspicion of misdemeanor vandalism.

Sidewalk chalk protests have popped up across the city in recent weeks as members of Occupy L.A. have used drawings to spread anti-gentrification messages. Los Angeles police quietly arrested some of the so-called chalkers on vandalism charges, but an incident at last month's Art Walk thrust the pastel drawings into the spotlight.

Seventeen people were arrested and several officers and bystanders were injured when police moved in on a group of Occupy L.A. protesters chalking downtown sidewalks during the monthly art showcase.

Activists argued that they have the right to hold their "chalk protests" under a 1995 court ruling involving freedom-of-speech rights, but L.A. Chief Deputy City Atty. William Carter said the state law governing vandalism was changed in 2000 to include the use of any medium, including chalk.

In Schaefer's video, the artist calls chalking "a hot-button issue" and thus a "great form of protest."

"I just believe chalking is a perfect form of civil disobedience that is nonviolent, non-destructive and a way for people to really let their thoughts out," he said.

The video shows Schaefer using blue and white chalk to mimic the Chase logo, writing "Crooks" and "Chaos" in front of the bank's doors.

At one point, a woman walks out of the bank and asks Schaefer if he has a permit. When he says he doesn't, she tells him: "I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

"Well, I'm going to keep doing it," he says.

"OK, well, then I will call security," the woman replies.

Community officers on bikes can be seen waiting until LAPD officers arrive to arrest Schaefer. The video ends with a trio of people walking past the bank, wet spots visible on the pavement where the chalk was washed away.

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— Kate Mather

Follow Kate Mather on Twitter or Google+.

 
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