journalism · Politics

More on the UA Sidewalk Chalk Criminal

This is not the UA chalk criminal ... but it is chalk drawing.
This is not the UA chalk criminal ... but it is chalk drawing.

Sgt. Juan Alvarez, University of Arizona police department spokesman, says that Jacob Miller, identified as a Geography graduate student by the Arizona Daily Wildcat, was arrested yesterday for drawing with sidewalk chalk because “this went beyond writing on the sidewalk – it was the buildings and public monuments.” He said state statute “exempts the ground” from a criminal damage citation, but not vertical services. There are also other caveats, such as if the ground is vandalized with spray paint or hate speech. A press release on the arrest can be found here.

Alvarez said UA Facilities Management claimed yesterday that the cost of cleaning up the chalk “damage” is estimated to be $1,000, a figure I find highly questionable, as someone who has power sprayed pounds of sidewalk chalk off my driveway and sidewalk over 20 years of raising chalk-crazy kids. More on my reasoning later.

Alvarez said in a phone interview this morning that police were notified by a UA employee at about 8:30 a.m. that a person or persons were drawing with chalk on the UA Alumni Plaza just outside of the administration building on the UA Mall. Alvarez wouldn’t identify the person who made the call, and I don’t have time to chase down the police report because I’m working on starting my new life today.

When I reached Miller this morning by phone, he said he thinks the person making the phone call was a man who approached Miller and another one of the student chalk bandits:

“There were others doing it too – 10 or 12. We did the chalking starting at about 7:30 actually for about an hour, then I went to the rally at 12:15 and when I left at 12:40, I left alone. The police had anticipated me coming to the rally, they waited for me to leave and then they came and hailed me when I was alone … They said they had surveillance of everything, that the whole administration building is on camera, but why me specifically, I don’t know. I was only responsible for writing on horizontal surfaces and I don’t know who wrote (on the walls of the Plaza). I suspect I was identified in a complaint made by the anonymous man who approached us. Maybe he took a picture of me with his cell phone camera. But it won’t stand in court, because I didn’t (chalk) the walls.”

Alvarez wouldn’t say how UAPD “developed information that it was Mr. Miller who (defaced) the monument and building walls” only that the investigation helped the department “develop probable cause for criminal damage citation.” Some of his statement to me:

There were other people that help Mr. Miller, but we couldn’t identify them. If we are able to identify them, we could pursue charges. But I will say we do have discretion if we issue a citation, a warning  or just divert them to the Dean of Students, if they are a student.”

The 24-year-old Miller is due in Pima County Justice Court on Oct. 14, he said, and he plans to fight the charges.

I’ve taken part in other organized (activism) efforts and you see groups doing this all the time, using chalk. Any day of the week, you come around the Mall and see an ad for something made with chalk – religious groups, student groups, athletic groups. It was really surprising and difficult to understand to have this happen and I’m really quite upset about it. … I just showed up, answering the call to protest the education cuts, to fight for quality education, I’m not really involved with the graduate student group, I just saw a flier I think. Apparently there is a rule that you can’t use chalk without special permission, but I see it all the time and so (punishment) isn’t enforced all the time obviously. Why was it enforced arbitrarily at this event when (chalk drawing) is a common thing here? I’m sure it is some misunderstanding and sure it will be resolved.

(I can just imagine Miller’s folks’ response when he called to give them news of the arrest: “You did what? Chalk, you say? Are you sure you heard the police right? Sidewalk chalk???? Honey, you must be mistaken.”)

I’m not trying to make light of vandalism; I’m all for locking up punks who deface property with spray paint and gang signs. (Actually, I’m all for making them do three hours/day for an entire year, of public service that involves hanging out with toddlers. Two-year-olds can break anyone.)

But sidewalk chalk outlines (not solid coloring), either horizontal or vertical, hardly qualifies because sidewalk chalk is easy to remove. On vertical surfaces, you would need a hose with a power nozzle. On sidewalks, same thing, or, left alone, the chalk would be removed by the soles of the 1000s of shoes walking over it in one day at UA. If it rained (as if!), it would also be removed.

Which brings us to the contention that this was $1,000 worth of damage. I called Christopher Kopach of UA Facilities Management and he said the $1,000 was just an estimate and that he’s drilling down into that number today “to get a true cost on it.” He said he was out of town yesterday and that he is trying to find out today if a vendor was called to take care of the removal or if it was handled by UA Facilities Management employees. The one thing he knew for sure was that the removers went once at about 7:45 to do some chalk removal and then again later in the morning.

As I said above, I’ve spent my fair share of parent time removing sidewalk chalk. And the art I removed was rarely just outline drawings. My kids drew whole cities on my driveway and colored in cars, people, etc. (One of my little artists is now a UA junior with an art minor who just got an A+ on her latest project. I didn’t even know they gave out A+ in college. And it all started with sidewalk chalk…) To remove all that drawing, I would spend, max 30 minutes, with a spray hose. (By myself, in the heat of the day, no sunglasses, dressed in combat gear ….)

So I find it almost impossible to buy that it would cost UA $1,000 to clean up chalk art, vertical, horizontal or diagonal. Say they had to send a whole “team” of four guys and two spray hoses and a scrub brush and it took, max – and this is thinking these guys work REALLY, REALLY SLOW – four hours. Estimating really high, say each of these employees make $30/hour. That’s $30 x 4 people = $120/hour x 4 hours = $480. That means who ever is doing this job for UA would have to charge more than $500 for what? A truck-mounted power hose? Maybe, but if they used a truck mounted power hose the job should be done by only two people and in about 15 seconds, not four hours.

Point is, in the middle of a budget crisis, it would be ridiculous for UA to spend $1,000 to remove chalk protesting (wait for it…) the budget crisis. If UA President Robert N. Shelton and Provost Meredith Hay want to increase their good-will standing on the campus, they might want to think about that and come up with a more appropriate response to the graduate students’ frustration. (A good post on if Miller’s citation violates the letter of the law is here at Sally Gradstudent.

AS A POSTSCRIPT: If you guys aren’t reading the Arizona Desert Lamp, you’re missing some great reporting, writing and opining by two UA undergrads who are not journalism majors. Their post on Shelton and Hay’s op-ed in yesterday’s Star does a good job of reading between the lines. And, no, I’m not sending you there just because blogger Evan Lisull mentioned my posts on the faculty ruckus; ADL is just really that good, and their work makes me grieve that newspapers continue to shed faster than my dog sheds hair, because Lisull has the makings of a great investigative reporter. Our loss.

POSTSCRIPT II: I echo what Roxanne over at Peace Garden Mama has to say about Anne Lamott, who I’ve often read and admired, in regards to Lamott’s essay regarding her participation in an assisted suicide. It is hard, methinks, to support someone – no matter how good their writing – when their description of feeding someone poison makes you think they may have lost touch with their soul. Roxane leaves judgment to God; I’m a little less prone to that in the discussion of assisted suicide. I know what it is like to think the suicide is the light at the end of your terribly dark tunnel. I’ve been awash in the morass that is grief, and physical pain, and despair. But, thank God and thank my friends, I always end up pointed toward hope: Hope that it won’t always hurt as bad as it does on that particular day, in that particular hour or minute. I believe (judge) that we fail as a society when we cannot help people see that hope.

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4 thoughts on “More on the UA Sidewalk Chalk Criminal

  1. Renee, well, perhaps I should reinterate that God will be the final judge. I am judging Lamott’s actions by posting about what I see as inconsistency of one Christian’s mindset. It’s the same reason I oppose abortion and the unjust war and the death penalty. We are not God. We are God’s creations. We were not given the go-ahead to take life. I agree with you that we have failed as a society if we cannot help people see that hope. Our faith is a faith of hope, and we are its conduits, so we need to do our job to bring light to the world, even when it’s difficult, or we fail.

  2. Ooops, I meant “reiterate” but really should have been “clarify,” since I am adding to my initial statements, not merely re-stating. Thanks for the extra space today, and have a great weekend!

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