The city of Orlando dropped charges today against a man who spent the past 18 days in jail after being arrested for using chalk to write protest slogans on the sidewalk outside City Hall.
Outside the Orange County Jail shortly after his release, Occupy Orlando demonstrator Timothy Osmar said he and other demonstrators hoped to convince police that no one should be arrested for protesting with chalk — but if that doesn't work, he doesn't mind going back to jail.
"I am ready and willing, after a bit of a breather, to do it all again," said Osmar, 25. "I would really look forward to challenging this in court, to striking the ordinance so people can express themselves with chalk on the sidewalk."
That could happen. Though city officials dropped the charges, City Attorney Mayanne Downs said that was because they felt Osmar had spent enough time in jail.
Anyway who "defaces" the sidewalk or other property, even with chalk, still risks arrest, she said.
Osmar was arrested Dec. 15 as he began to write "the revolution will not be televised" in pink chalk after police warned him to stop. After being released on bond, he returned to City Hall on Dec. 22 and wrote again: "All I want for Christmas is a revolution."
Osmar was arrested again and has been held without bond at the jail.
The charges were dropped just a day after attorney Dick Wilson, who took Osmar's case pro bono, enter a "not guilty" plea on his client's behalf.
Wilson said the arrests were a clear violation of Osmar's First Amendment rights.
"I am thrilled the crime rate in Orlando is so low the city of Orlando has time to imprison people for drawing on the sidewalk in chalk," said Wilson, former national chairman of the First Amendment Lawyers Association.
Osmar was charged with violating a city ordinance prohibiting "writing or painting advertising matter on streets or sidewalks." Among other things, Osmar had written, "This is not graffiti. It's democracy."
Since then, the move has been criticized in the news media and by some attorneys.
But a police report shows that officers contacted the department's legal adviser and were told that an arrest for writing on the sidewalk with chalk was lawful.
After his second arrest, his bond from the first incident was automatically revoked, and that is why he remained in custody.