The judge overseeing the case of a San Diego resident who is going to trial for “vandalizing” around Bank of America properties has thrown out the accused’s invocation of the first amendment. Jeff Olson, 40, is looking at 13 years in prison on top of tens of thousands of dollars in restitution.
Olson was arrested and charged with 13 counts of vandalism because he wrote anti-bank slogans near Bank of America branches with water-soluble sidewalk chalk, the stuff kids use to write on driveways. Sidewalk chalk could easily vanish amid a light rain, yet, Bank of America saw fit to pursue filing charges against a protester trying to persuade people to move their assets from Bank of America to locally-owned credit unions.
One person with Bank of America is mainly responsible for filing charges against Olson. Darell Freeman is Bank of America’s vice president of Global Corporate Security and it was reported that he “aggressively pressured city attorneys” to charge Olson.
Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard picked up the case and notified Freeman that the 13 counts had been filed. Hazard filed the court document shortly thereafter which, at one point, read: “The people do not fear that this reading of section 594(A) will make criminals of every child using chalk. . . Kids acting without malice may still engage in their art.”
There are lots of things horribly wrong with that statement. Hazard is basically asserting that because there was malice, prosecution is justified. Now, since the court is viewing Olson’s act as vandalism, he cannot invoke the first amendment during his trial.
It’s an absurd call because had Olson been a child playing with sidewalk chalk in the same proximity, no one would have so much as batted an eyelash. Since Olson’s message was critical of Bank of America, they are seeking the court to launch the book at Olson.
Olson’s attorney, Tom Tosdal, was also outraged at the ridiculous and vulgar charges brought against his client, so much that he’s seeing the case pro-bono. “The City Attorney is playing politics with Olson’s right to free speech,” said Tosdal. “ It’s another form of social control. . . I was there in the Sixties when real protest happened. This, writing in water soluble chalk, is so minor.”
There’s a continuing narrative that’s glosses the unfair, one-sided treatment of American big business. Ring of Fire’s very own Mike Papantonio vehemently defended Olson:
This is absolutely obscene that the bankers that swindled countless Americans with sham mortgages will never see the inside of a prison cell, but an American citizen who stood up to the bank could spend the next decade or more in jail. There is a global revolt of the middle class taking place all over the world – from Brazil to Iran to China – and American businesses need to wake up and realize that there’s only so much hammering that people can take before they get angry.
Six former Bank of America employees have recently come forward and outed the company for getting its mortgage servicing unit to “lie to homeowners, fraudulently den[y] loan modifications,” and giving incentives to staff “for deliberately pushing people into foreclosure.”
This case is just another way that corporate America has managed to wedge itself into the American justice system with the goal of maintaining its heartless and amoral operation. And because Bank of America saw such a threat in Greg Olson, they are seeking to have him imprisoned for speaking out against them.
Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.