Federal Court Recognizes Chalking Freedom in Orlando

Tim Osmar arrested for chalking, Dec 15 2011

After a cost of eighteen days in a cage and a few months of legal threats, there is good news to report on chalking freedom out of Orlando, Florida. The ABA Journal published yesterday that Timothy Osmar, who was twice arrested for chalking at the Orlando city hall plaza, had his rights violated when he was legally kidnapped over protected political speech. US district magistrate David Baker’s ruling deemed the arrest for violation of a city ordinance to be an overreach of a code designed to prevent unauthorized commercial advertising. Unlike NH, Florida’s towns and cities are endowed with the power to write words powerful enough to invoke arrest for their violation.

Prior to the decision Friday, Orlando officials indicated that they would be appealing an “adverse ruling”. The city would find it difficult to play a purer than thou antichalk attitude in this case. Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer encouraged downtown businesses to chalk their sidewalks in support of the home team Magic when they were in the NBA playoffs in 2009. The city also permits a yearly chalk art festival held by the local Rotary Club. David Baker told Orlando bureaucrats, “The city may not selectively interpret and enforce the ordinance based on its own desire to further the causes of particular favored speakers.”

Mayor Dyer did not seem thoroughly interested in the deeper constitutional and moral issues regarding chalking arrests. His comment, while charges were pending was, “This was a guy who wanted to be arrested, by all accounts, and has been… This guy was given every opportunity not to go to jail, but he chose to go to jail.” Such a statement from the city’s highest ranking official implies that Dyer’s officers are permitted to make contempt-of-cop arrests.

After he was released for the second time in January, the Orlando Sentinel printed this inspiring article about Tim’s persistence in his right to chalk. He was first arrested on December 15 and returned to city hall after his release on December 22 to chalk again. After writing “All I want for Christmas is a revolution”, he was returned to a cage. The day after a lawyer offered to take his case pro bono, and entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf, the charge of illegal advertising was dropped, and he was released. Three months later, there is now a federal court ruling stating that chalked speech (at least in circumstances similiar to Mr. Osmar’s case) is protected speech.

Mayanne Downs is an attorney who works for the politicians known collectively as the city of Orlando, and she was tasked with spinning the judge’s ruling as favorably towards the city’s enforcement arm as possible. While Tim Osmar was originally arrested for the crime of “writing or painting advertizing matter”, the city did not pursue other similarly vague charges against him. In the time between the dropping of the charge in January and the federal ruling, Mayanne tried her best to discourage chalking, but assuredly Orlando activists called her bluff. After his release, her office commented that chalkers are still at risk of being arrested, “I hope people don’t do that — there are better ways to protest. Why not hold a sign? But we have to apply our ordinances in as consistent a way as possible.” Now that the ruling has been handed down, the position she puts fourth is, “The ruling doesn’t address the other ordinances that Mr. Osmar violated.” Perhaps this is how Orlando officials announce that they are building up the fortitude to violate more people’s rights.

“It’s something that I feel, and that a lot of rational people think, is our right as citizens…I still believe I did the right thing. I’m okay with being arrested again.” Among other chalkings by Tim read, “The revolution will not be televised” and “It’s not graffiti. It’s democracy.”

A friend poses with a chalking supporting Tim Osmar outside an Orlando courthouse.

This article was originally published at FreeConcord.org.


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