Los Angeles police in riot gear push the crowd back from the intersection… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
The protesters who rolled into town on a chartered bus Wednesday were united by a single cause: chalk.
They had come to show their support for Occupy Los Angeles, which last month clashed with police at downtown's Art Walk for chalking political slogans on the streets. That melee, which left four officers injured and 17 people in handcuffs, catapulted the foundering protest movement back into the spotlight and spawned sympathetic demonstrations across the nation.
Thursday marks the first Art Walk since the incident, and it is shaping up to be an eventful night for the Occupiers.
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Along with the visiting demonstrators, from Oakland, who are planning chalk murals, leftist activist Cindy Sheehan is scheduled to visit their group. Members of Code Pink, an antiwar group, say they will be there to show their support, pink chalk in hand. Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Horace Frank, of the Central Division, says his officers plan to enforce the law if they see it being broken.
"It's a violation of the law, it's vandalism, and we're going to make an arrest," he said, adding that he has received frequent emails from downtown property owners complaining about damage from chalk.
"My BlackBerry is burning up with pictures of businesses being vandalized," he said.
Even before Art Walk brought attention to the issue, police had arrested more than a dozen protesters on suspicion of chalking.
But the city has elected not to press charges in the majority of those cases, said William H. Carter, chief deputy to City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, and it has yet to file criminal charges in chalking arrests from the Art Walk incident or in the weeks since.
Carter said his office decided whom to charge based on the severity of the allegation and the arrestee.
Protesters say they shouldn't be arrested if they aren't going to be charged. They accuse police of intimidation and of trying to "starve" out demonstrators who have had to pay bail to get out of jail.
Protester Cheryl Aichel said she believes police are using the chalkings not to gain convictions but "as an excuse to make arrests."