Smith College

Sidewalk activism

At first glance, the bright, blue chalk scribbled on the sidewalk might be mistaken for a child’s playful scrawl. But it reads “shot at point blank”. The words are a tribute to Ezell Ford, a black homeless man who two LAPD police officers shot dead in 2014.

The artist of the chalk writing is 24-year-old University of California Los Angeles undergrad, Seth Newmeyer. Equipped with the dollar store’s selection of chalk and his bike, he heads to places of civil unrest—like the Black Lives Matter protest during the LAPD Commission Tuesday  morning—to sketch statistics that remind protesters why they are there.

“It’s easier than carrying around posters,” he said. “Who knows how much money I’ve spent on chalk. That’s now dust in the wind.”

The chalk that Newmeyer used on Tuesday isn’t up to his usual standards. “These,” he said, pointing to the buds of what used to be chalk sticks, “crumble really easily. Normally, they’re much more durable.”

One of Newmeyer's chalk drawings behind the LAPD Headquaters.
One of Newmeyer’s chalk writings behind the LAPD Headquarters.

Although whimsical in nature, Newmeyer has a particular way of arranging his chalk writing. “I want it usually to be at the border of the protest, mostly facing away from the protest,” he said pointing to the words he sketched into the sparkling concrete.

He brushes off any questions of artistic merit,  assuring that he only likes words. But, the words that Newmeyer has surrounding the LAPD Headquarters in Downtown LA tell the story of violence.

Several statistics, all backed by the Youth Justice Coalition, are scribbled around LAPD Headquarters, but Newmeyer doesn’t come with pages of evidence on police brutality. Instead, he “tries to find stats that encapsulate the whole problem,” and then commits them to memory.

What began as a form of protest at California State University Long Beach over the institution’s tuition rates, developed into something Newmeyer has done on and off for five years.

Newmeyer said that he believes that his chalk writing has the ability to capture minds, especially those of bystanders.

“If they’re on the fence” about an issue, he said, “hopefully these are facts that push them over the edge.”