Alex Schaefer: Street Artist Speaks Out About His Arrest for Chalking at a Chase Bank

Schaefer getting arrested, from a video he posted on his website
Schaefer getting arrested, from a video he posted on his website

In the wake of his much-publicized arrest yesterday for chalking outside a Chase Bank at Sixth Street and Figueroa downtown, L.A. artist Alex Schaefer revealed details of a lengthy 12 hours spent inside a jail cell at the city's Metropolitan Detention Center Towers.

In Schaefer's sidewalk chalk drawings, he emulated the bank's logo, but drew it so that it instead read "Crooks," "Crime" and "Chaos." A bank employee discovered him and asked if he had a permit. He said no, and was asked to move. He refused. Security was called, and then the police. Schaefer was taken into custody on a misdemeanor vandalism charge, though the exact classification and penalty will be determined in court, at a date to be determined.

Despite posting $1,000 bail at 3 p.m. on Monday via his friend (and bail bondsman) Stephen Zeigler, Schaefer didn't see release from jail till 2 a.m. Tuesday. He then walked 10 blocks to his loft on Seventh Street from the corner of First and Los Angeles streets.

Even prior to his chalking, Schaefer had given Zeigler bail money early Monday to ensure he was covered in the advent of his potential arrest.

"It's unfair and ridiculous," Schaefer says of the arrest process. "If you look at the video on my blog, you can see they came and washed it off in a matter of seconds. Still, I spent more time in jail than Jon Corzine has and he stole billions." (Corzine, the former New Jersey senator and governor, is under investigation following accusations that the securities firm he headed illegally took clients' funds before collapsing.)

Schaefer chalking, from a video on his website
Schaefer chalking, from a video on his website

Schaefer is no stranger to controversy, as last year his paintings of burning banks caused police to interrogate him to find out if he was planning to torch one for real.

This time, when talking about his arresting officers, Schaefer seems more philosophical than resentful, though a bit naive considering their basic function is to enforce the law. "When I was speaking to the arresting officers, we were talking about the economy and they agreed about how bad things are," he says. "That begs the question: Are they cops or Americans first? They will never protest."

He adds, "I wasn't manhandled, but they did treat me like a piece of meat that was simply being processed for arrest. I tried to tell them who I was, i.e., I'm the burning banks artist that received a bunch of press. They weren't too interested. I don't think they knew who I was."

One of Schaefer's paintings of burning banks
One of Schaefer's paintings of burning banks

Chalking has become an act of civil disobedience popular with the Occupy L.A. movement, as chalk drawings usually lend themselves to anti-bank/police/establishment messages on sidewalks.

From Picasso to Susan Crile, many artists historically have used political activism to elevate their own profile, yet Schaefer insists his gesture was more altruistic, focused on political protest over artistic expression. "I hope people are shocked about the situation and my arrest," he says. "I hope it creates a waves of publicity and gets people thinking about the situation -- it's fucked."

Asked whether he will chalk again, Schaefer waxes angrily, "Part of me feels the need to chalk in front of every big bank, BofA, Citibank all the others." He later added he will speak to his bail bondsman about the potential consequences before proceeding.

In the video he posted of his chalking, Schaefer discusses the importance of chalking as an act of protest: "Americans should be protesting right now, every day. It's a perfect form of nonviolent civil disobedience." He can later be seen in confrontation with a bank employee and subsequently cuffed, searched and arrested.

Calls to the LAPD media relations department were referred to the LAPD's Discovery Unit, where we were asked to submit a written request for further information, which we have done.

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