The last day in August of 2012, the day that transformed into a blue moon night, was a busy day for Salida police officers and public works employees. It was the day Kindlelyn Bustos and her “sacred posse of five” drew a peace sign with temporary spray chalk at 4:30 a.m. at the intersection of F and First streets, reaching all four corners.
Bustos called her mother at 6 a.m., asking her to check out the peace sign because it wouldn’t last.
Bustos’ “simplistic approach of peace” was anything but. Her plan to do “something higher, something cool and raise energy” by spraying the symbol in chalk didn’t go as planned. In the end Bustos pleaded guilty to a class B traffic infraction in Chaffee County Court and paid a $15 fine. She faces between $500 and $800 in restitution. She was originally charged with defacing public property. Bustos has a restitution hearing on Dec. 18.
“I had full intention of Mother Nature taking care of it,” said Bustos, who was inspired by the mandala sand paintings of Tibetan Buddhist monks. The monks painstakingly create this art, then blow it away to symbolize nonattachment.
Bustos said the third police officer who visited her that day seemed agitated and told her the peace sign could be offensive to some people. The intersection was closed and traffic diverted for hours while a Salida public works crew cleaned up the symbol.
The manner in which the situation was handled raises compelling questions. Did the police officer overreact, taking action based on the symbol’s message? And were Bustos’ free speech rights violated because of this?
Chalk is often used on downtown sidewalks and streets, specifically F Street, for shop sales, promotions, artwork and hopscotch.
Promoters of sporting events, such as the Vuelta de Salida bike race, regularly write on streets with permanent paint without suffering criminal action. Salida High-schoolers have shown their spirit by painting large purple paw prints in the roads. There is no precedent of anyone in Salida being prosecuted.
Daniel Zettler, Bustos’ attorney, said, “Ms. Bustos’ concern is that the actions of the Salida Police Department, via a misuse and abuse of the criminal code, were designed to chill her and others’ First Amendment activities and were based on the content of her speech rather than a legitimate concern about traffic and pedestrian safety.
“Ms. Bustos wrote her political message on the street with temporary chalk, not with spray paint. If the police department had waited, the message would have soon disappeared on its own accord without the waste of time and money, and the citizens of Salida would have been no less safe as a result.”
Apparently, Bustos’ symbol became problematic when she drew into the crosswalk, touching on the road’s signage.
Meanwhile, Zettler questions the city’s calculations of cleanup costs. He said a street sweeper was already out that day. Zettler has requested documents showing the need for additional city personnel and equipment that would bump up the bill to as much as $800.
Manufacturer’s instructions for the product used, Air Chalk by Goodmark, say the substance is temporary and can be used on walls, glass, grass, concrete, wood, plastic and more. It cleans up with soap and water or can be brushed away.
Kevin Nelson, public works inspector, declined to comment for this story. Deputy District Attorney Rex Kindall, who represents the city on a contract basis, did not return a phone call before this story was posted.
Bustos and friends are a common sight on the corner of F and First streets, lifting signs that say, “Honk for Peace” and “What is Your Peace?”
“It’s one more second in your day you’re thinking of peace,” said Bustos, who is a manager at Yolo Clothing store.
Bustos has an aunt in Gunnison who often holds a peace sign at a popular intersection. Her aunt has said publicly she’ll hold the sign until all U.S. troops return home.
Bustos’ approach is more personal as she hopes people “tap into inner peace,” she said.
Flowers and bicycles detailed Bustos’ now famous peace sign, with smaller peace symbols colored in the artful designs. “There was a lot of purpose,” she said.
Talking over coffee at Sweetie’s, Bustos recalls the police – or peace – officer’s words about her peace sign being potentially offensive as the “saddest of conversations.” She said: “Why would anyone be offended? I grabbed my heart.”
Then she talked about an award-winning documentary that moved her, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. The movie chronicles the story of courageous Liberian women, Christian and Muslim, who came together to end a bloody civil war and bring peace to their shattered country.
Bustos does see a lesson in all this trouble over her peace sign. “I’m learning about my rights,” she said.
Bustos will soon learn at her restitution hearing whether her peace sign was an expensive expression. In the meantime she’ll return to her familiar spot on the corner of F and First streets on Fridays at noon, raising her signs of peace, cheering and waving, responding to the honks. She chooses this intersection because it’s “the heartbeat of Salida.”
Bustos can’t change who she is. “I’m a peace warrior,” she said with a shrug.
A peace vigil at F and First streets will happen at noon Fri., Nov. 23, then later a Peace Dance Party at The Fritz at 10 p.m. Donations are encouraged to help defray costs for Kindlelyn Bustos. Art will be exchanged too.