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Apprehended! Second chalker nabbed by cops

The Brooklyn Paper
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The city’s crackdown on sidewalk chalk “vandals” is officially out of control! It was bad enough when the Sanitation Department threatened the parents of a 6-year-old Park Slope girl with a $300 fine if they did not remove the offensive “graffiti” — her sidewalk chalk drawings on their own front stoop.

But after we ran our front-page story about Natalie Shea and her chalk “vandalism,” a Cobble Hill chalk artist who had never been arrested before suddenly found himself in handcuffs and spending a night in the lockup.

Coincidence? Not likely, considering that the artist, Ellis Gallagher, had been quoted in the original Brooklyn Paper piece — a story that the desk sergeant just happened to be reading when Gallagher was brought in.

“The cops had spent about half an hour debating whether to arrest me, so they finally called the sergeant who said, ‘Bring him in,’” recalled Gallagher. “And when I get to the 76th Precinct [stationhouse], sure enough, the sergeant is reading The Brooklyn Paper and laughing at me.”

While we’re not surprised that the sergeant was reading Brooklyn’s real newspaper, Gallagher was stunned to be arrested and held overnight because of a few benign comments in our Oct. 13 issue:

“Cops stop me all the time when they see me drawing on the sidewalk,” Gallagher had said at the time. “But once they see it’s just chalk, they always let me go.”

Not anymore.

On Oct. 17, Gallagher was at the corner of Smith and Warren streets, creating one of his trademark shadow drawings — in chalk! — for the PBS show “New York Voices.” He says that two cops in a patrol car stopped and asked if he had permits to do his work, but, like so many times before, Gallagher showed off his chalk and expected the cops to be on their way.

But not in the current climate — not when chalk-bearing 6-year-olds are running wild!

The cops referred to their penal law codes and then flagged down two more officers, who joined the sidewalk debate over whether to arrest Gallagher, whose work consists solely of outlining the shadows of objects in chalk.

Gallagher was ultimately charged with making graffiti, possession of graffiti-making materials and criminal mischief.

After spending the night on a hard bench, Gallagher’s case was dismissed at the Red Hook Community Court.

Now, this is the part of a normal column where the writer would call some free speech lawyer for the suitably appropriate condemnation of the arrest. But you don’t need to be a lawyer to feel that somewhere between Natalie Shea’s innocent, child-like drawings and the arrest of Ellis Gallagher, something has gone off the rails in this city.

Even the NYPD told me two weeks ago that what Shea and Gallagher are doing is not graffiti because chalk doesn’t even last through a minor rainfall. But that didn’t prevent the city from sending Natalie’s parents their warning letter. And it didn’t keep Gallagher out of jail.

His mission now is to get the law changed so that chalk is explicitly exempted from the current city graffiti law, which is vague on whether scrawls made from impermanent materials can be considered graffiti.

He’s looking for a good lawyer or a Councilmember willing to stand up for art, children’s sidewalk scrawls and future generations of hopscotch players everywhere.

Sounds like child’s play, no?

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com
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Reader Feedback

Nathan says:
It makes me want to pick up and move out of Brooklyn and this city when I hear about things like this. There are plenty of things to keep the police busy without having to bother someone that is drawing in chalk. I have seen several of the chalk art drawings in Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens and it always makes me smile. While I do think that any artist should get permission before drawing on anyones sidewalk (residential or business) I also think that chalk drawings are pretty easy to get rid of and do not harm anyone. If this stupid behavior by the police keeps up I may have to resort to some graffiti of my own (in chalk of coarse). I suggest that anyone else that feels the same way I do should feel free to do the same.
Oct. 27, 2007, 2:57 pm
James says:
This is quite a silly incident. I pray that the cops who hauled him in were telling all of their buddies later on. The 'real' crime is that the authorities let the elusive 'Ellis' walk. I've been trying to catch up with the man myself for years now. My hope is that the cops roughed him up a bit, maybe kicked him in the balls like I've been planning to do myself for so long. Ellis falls into the 90th percentile of artists, that is people making bad art if we can really deem this stuff art at all given the current post-medium condition.
Know this Ellis, I'm polishing up my right shoe and looking forward to the day I scuff it up on your posterior. Your BFA degree stands for 'Bad Friggin' Art'.
Oct. 28, 2007, 2:03 pm
elote says:
why do artists get arrested for chalk art that hurts no one and washes away with water. but the president can go on killing thousands of human beings with no questions.
stop this war!! bring our kids home now!!
Oct. 29, 2007, 11:31 am
PJ Jimenez says:
You didn't mention the name of the two kids who arrested and created the next Kieth Haring.
Oct. 29, 2007, 11:05 pm
Latex Glove says:
His shirt matches his glove. Don't get any dust on those Nikes friend!
Oct. 30, 2007, 8:30 am
bad jimbo says:
I watched this guy in dumbo a few weeks ago carefully removing butts and pieces of paper from his "art". Tracing shadows? Yes, my kid could do this but she is 12 now and moved on to crayons. Its hard to defend the first amendment with the likes of porn, piss christ and shadow tracing.
Oct. 31, 2007, 10:10 am
Cida Alves says:
As I have said before, what a poor nation!!
Nov. 5, 2007, 8:27 pm
Will from Morningside Heights says:
It's chalk, what are you so worked up about. Regardless of the opinions about the quality of his work, I don't see how what he did was wrong. It washes away, it doesn't encourage illegal activities, and it's a fun thing to do on a hot summers day. Permission? Are people that anal? Dogs can piss on it but humans who created the cement for the sidewalk can't even draw on it? If it's that big a deal give the guy a bottle of water to wash it away.
I hear a lot of "grow up" mentality about drawing with chalk when I can easily counter argue that you are acting childish by getting worked up by chalk in the first place. You see this is the problem with New York these days.
April 27, 2009, 9:11 pm

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