Meet Ellis Gallagher, Brooklynite and first non-child victim in the sidewalk-chalk war. Gallagher, who has been drawing silhouettes on the streets for the past three years (he’s been profiled in the Times and has lectured on graffiti as art at the Brooklyn Museum), was the city’s first chalk-related arrest last week when police saw him at work during the filming of a profile set to air in early November as part of Channel 13’s “New York Voices” series. “I’ve been stopped before, but once they see it’s chalk, they lay off,” Gallagher says. He was carted around to three different precincts and charged with making graffiti, possessing graffiti instruments, and making mischief before charges were dropped in Red Hook court the next day.
“Graffiti is marking or painting of public property with intent to damage,” Gallagher says. “I am technically placing a mark, but not intending to damage. I found a loophole, and they’re not happy with it.” That loophole might just become bona fide law sometime soon. Gallagher has begun conversations with the NYCLU in an attempt to change the state statute regarding graffiti. The NYCLU’s Chris Dunn, who’s handling Gallagher’s case, says he’s in the process of working with the NYPD to confirm whether chalking falls under the definition of graffiti in the first place. “There understandably might be some confusion,” Dunn says. “But the very fact that [Gallagher] was arrested and held overnight was overkill. Devoting resources to chasing people who are chalking sidewalks would be a complete waste.” Gallagher thinks the prospective law should be named after Natalie O’Shea, whose family was fined for her stoop doodles. “I think she makes a better poster child than I do.” —Rebecca Milzoff