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Sidewalk chalk markings challenges First Amendment rights

Reported by: John Treanor
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Updated: 8/19/2013 10:10 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- Chalk designed made for children is now at the center of a First Amendment fight.

It’s designed for ages four and up and could land four people in jail for a year.

Chalk used for hopscotch and sketches but washable sidewalk chalk, the kind that costs $2, is now at the center of a First Amendment debate.

Similar chalk was used by a group of protesters on a public sidewalk to speak out about Metro police and a record of police shootings.

“What we have here is Metro and the district attorney office going after our clients for writing on the sidewalk things critical of Metro,” said attorney Maggie McLetchie.

But it’s not the message that brought the charges, it’s the tool.

The district attorney says it is simple vandalism -- using the chalk as graffiti and costing the city $1,500 to clean up.

But is it?

Not according to the state's code which defines a graffiti tool as anything not soluble in water and washable chalk is very much water soluble.

“They didn’t even need to clean this up. It would have gone away on its own,” McLetchie said. “It is ridiculous.”

It seems like a simple case but the lasting effects are complex.

The case goes to court in December and the decision there could have a major impact on free speech in Las Vegas.




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