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Chalk art: At center of ArtWalk protest, free speech or vandalism?

July 13, 2012 | 10:38 am

Chalk protest
Los Angeles police said Friday that they have arrested numerous people for chalking downtown in the weeks leading up to ArtWalk. 

Protesters organized a "Chalk Walk" during Thursday's monthly ArtWalk in downtown Los Angeles to "celebrate our right to free speech and remind the LAPD and the city of Los Angeles that chalking is NOT a crime."

Los Angeles Police Capt. Horace Frank said that in the last several weeks, the department has been arresting people who have marked downtown with chalk. The chalkers have been targeting the area around the Central City Assn. headquarters, near Wilshire Boulevard and Hope Street, Frank said.

PHOTOS: Confrontation at downtown L.A. ArtWalk

Protesters have characterized Central City Assn. as the "lobby group of the 1%," according to a handout distributed at ArtWalk.

On Thursday night, their supporters began amassing and chalking at 6th and Spring Streets.

"They decide they were going to turn ArtWalk into a protest," Frank said. "After about nine arrests for vandalism on the sidewalk and buildings, I decided we should pull back because it was getting dangerous for the officers."

Frank said the department set up a skirmish line across Spring and 5th Streets. Dozens of officers then donned riot helmets and systematically moved the crowd away block by block.

He said there were a small number of protesters, but the crowd grew to 300 as word spread of the conflict. "Our officers then started taking rocks and bottles from the crowd. At that point we fired some less lethal weapons and eventually gave the order to disperse,"  he said.

Police used batons and non-lethal projectiles to disperse the crowd after a few threw bottles and cans at officers and chanted, "Whose streets? Our streets!"

Frank said four officers were hurt and treated for minor injuries. One female officer suffered a minor concussion after being hit in the head by an object thrown by the crowd.

"The chalking was not limited to the sidewalk, it was also on the buildings," Frank said. "This was vandalism."

The captain said he expects further protests Friday and throughout the weekend as the Occupy movement is seeking to have the government release a military officer accused of leaking vast quantities of data to WikiLeaks.

A woman who identified herself as part of Occupy L.A. said protesters attended the ArtWalk with the intention of showing support for people previously arrested for chalking on the sidewalk.

"Free chalk. Free speech," said Sonny Estrada, 22, who considered himself part of Occupy L.A.

"I came here for the ArtWalk, instead I'm getting street theater from the LAPD," said 50-year-old Barrie Wild.


Downtown L.A. clears after confrontation breaks out at ArtWalk

LAPD, Occupy protesters clash over chalk-drawing demonstration

Downtown L.A. melee: 2 police officers hurt, at least 14 arrested

-- Richard Winton and Melissa Leu

Photo: Protesters use chalk to make statements on Spring Street. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times