The Texas city of Leon Valley has apologized after local police detained street artist Lakey Hinson on May 15. Body camera footage posted on social media shows the 36-year-old San Antonio artist telling officers that his sidewalk design was made in chalk and would wash away with the rain right before he was handcuffed and brought back to the nearby police station.
Hinson, who also goes by Lakey360, has grown a social media following for the public chalk art he creates freehand in cities around Texas, sometimes working with collaborators including . His colorful illustrations vary from in symbolic images focused on community-building, but his most common design is a six-petaled “flower” that he creates using circle forms paired with a personal quote: “Overlapping friend circles bring a community to blossom.” Hinson often works with other artists, including two friends and frequent collaborators who go by the names knowartist and @servin.art.studio.
“I always go out creating in public because I believe it is important for us to reclaim public property. So many venues want to charge artists to show up and sell their art, or they offer artists ‘exposure’ instead of pay,” Hinson said to Hyperallergic, adding that he likes to use sidewalk chalk as his primary medium since the art form “is about as accessible as you can be.”
But on Monday, May 15 at around 6:30pm, Leon Valley Police officers did not hesitate to detain Hinson in front of a bus stop for alleged vandalism.
Officer Jorge Breton, who has worked in law enforcement for at least a decade, was training Officer Alan Gonzalez that day when they received an anonymous call complaining of graffiti, according to reporting by San Antonio Express News. Hyperallergic has requested comment and a police report from the department.
Apparent body camera footage obtained via a Freedom of Information Request and later posted to social media by Hinson shows the officers asking Hinson what he was doing, to which Hinson answers, “Sidewalk chalk.” In the video, the officers explain that they had received a call complaining of graffiti and that he had to stop because he did not have a permit. Hinson responds that the work is “impermanent” and that the rain would soon wash it away, and defends his chalk mural as “freedom of expression.” The officers then demand his ID as Hinson begins recording the event on his phone. Within seconds, the officers handcuff the street artist and escort him into a police car.
“We wanted to give you a break. Now you’re pushing us to do this,” Officer Breton is heard saying in the video.
“I’m not pushing you to do this. You’re choosing to do this because you’re a bully,” Hinson responds.
The officers then brought the Texas artist back to police headquarters where he was “detained at the local precinct for 30 minutes,” as confirmed to Hyperallergic by the city’s Community Relations Director Crystal Miranda.
But according to Texas Penal Code 28.08, chalk art does not constitute illegal vandalism.
“[The police] chose to put me in the car, and I just went silent to see how things would unfold. I knew that I was in the right,” Hinson said, recalling the incident in an email to Hyperallergic. “They had me in the cell maybe 15 minutes before Breton returned and tried to make it sound like he was going to do a favor for me and let me go after talking to the DA.”
The body camera footage later shows Breton’s supervisor warning him to “be careful because chalk is not considered a permanent marking.” The sergeant said to Breton, “If we unlawfully detained him, then that opens us up for a lawsuit.”
After Hinson was released, the City of Leon Valley and the Leon Valley Police Department publicly apologized to Hinson and held a “Chalk the Walk” event at the Leon Valley Public Library on June 11 “in an effort to show that [officials] welcome public chalk art.”
In response to the official apologies, Hinson told Hyperallergic that he had mixed feelings. He admitted that he was partially glad that they acknowledged their wrongdoings because in previous instances when he was “wrongfully arrested, or just ticketed and harassed,” he said he received no apology whatsoever.
“On the other hand, it’s kind of a slap in the face,” Hinson continued. “The thought that two dudes with weapons and body armor working for the city found it necessary to put me in cuffs less than 60 seconds after speaking to me over sidewalk chalk, [and then] they’re offering me the chance to create at a ‘Chalk the Walk’ event in 95+ degree temperatures for free — that does kinda feel like they’re giving as absolutely little as they can.”
On June 6, Hinson spoke at City Hall about his dissatisfaction with the department’s handling of the case, citing that Officer Breton was not terminated from his position, according to San Antonio Express News, but only removed from his training duties and given a written reprimand.
“I asked for Breton’s termination and explained that I feel he will likely hurt an individual and leave the city having to deal with his consequences,” Hinson told Hyperallergic, noting the irony that “chalk art can get you arrested quicker than open carrying a firearm.”
Hinson told Hyperallergic that he plans on suing the city of Leon Valley once he finds affordable legal representation or an attorney willing to work pro bono since he cannot even afford his own residence.
The latest incident is not the first time Hinson has been targeted for his chalk art. About six hours East in Longview, where Hinson graduated from high school in 2005, the artist faced opposition from local police and civilians for creating public artwork. He said his work was purposefully covered multiple times in 2019, and on December 11 that same year, he was also arrested, searched, and detained at the Gregg County Jail for drawing his chalk mandalas on the sidewalk of the city’s downtown arts district.
On January 19 earlier this year, his work was again met with opposition, this time by local Confederate sympathizers in front of the Longview city courthouse where Hinson was inscribing Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech on the sidewalk in honor of MLK Day three days prior.
Hinson continued to write until one of the antagonizers returned to the scene “with a barrel of water and washed away four hours’ worth of writing.”
Hinson caught the entire encounter on camera in a video that shows individuals washing away his work as he attempts to write. He returned to the site to finish the work over the next two days. Later, he spoke at Longview City Hall about his ordeal but said he was met with scant support. Shortly afterward, Hinson decided to pack up and leave his hometown.
As recently as this past week, on June 18, Hinson and local artists were creating another sidewalk mural, this time outside a private property — San Antonio’s historic Pearl Brewery — in honor of Juneteenth, only to have the work washed away.
“They didn’t clean the filth on the concrete; they just washed away the chalk,” Hinson said.
In response to the Juneteenth chalk mural, a representative of the Pearl Brewery told Hyperallergic that the artists “were given permission by tenants on site who don’t have the authority to approve art installations or media events.” In regards to the washed away mural, the representative said it is the brewery’s daily procedure to clean the entire property for maintenance purposes that “had nothing to do with the topic of the art or Pearl’s views.”
Hyperallergic has reached out to the Leon Valley Police Department and Leon Valley City Hall for comment. Hyperallergic has also contacted the Longview Police Department and Longview City Manager’s Office.