Covering

Over-Criminalization

       

By Lindsayt |  Published on Friday, April 29, 2011.

With the Free Revok movement well underway, lets take a look at some of the most offensive recent events and overarching legislation that affect our community.

It's been a roller coaster of emotions the past couple months as both positive and negative events transpire in our community.  First Askew got buffed in Auckland, then Adidas illegally took over a legendary wall in Warsaw and, finally, Graffiti Control Systems outrageously buffed a permission piece by some of our most noted living artists.  Then MoCA's Art in the Streets brought on a few weeks of exaltation and celebration, a happy time to reflect on how far we have come in the past 40 years.  

But, like every party, there's a party-pooper and a party-crasher to kill the high, and that was the LAPD, who detained Space Invader and then arrested Revok on his way out of the country.

As community activists unite around two words - Free Revok (#freerevok on Twitter) - lets take a look at some of the biggest hurdles that stand before us.

1. Grotesque Fines Compared to Other Crimes.

One of the most outrageous parts of Revok's arrest has to do with his $320K bail set with his 180 days in jail.  This number is astronomical compared to other crimes.  Logan Hicks explains:

Basically you can sedate and rape a patient, videotape boys in the restroom, molest children, put a bounty on your daughters boyfriend, carry a machete in public, commit a hate crime, rape a female, or leave your baby in a car that is 115 degrees, and none of those are as bad as graffiti in the eyes of the law. All of the above crimes that I mentioned have a bail amount that is a THIRD as much as Revok’s.

2. Venomous Sentencing of Our Youth

Lets just look at the state of Texas. In February 2010, they sentenced Manuel Madrazo to 10 years in prison.  Ralph Mirabel, 19 years old, was sentenced to 3 consecutive 8-year terms (24 years for those of you that cannot multiply).  In this video from December 2009, Judge Marisela Saldana gives out 8 years in prison for $7300 in damages. Need we point out that the cost to house this writer in a prison costs the state & its taxpayers more than fixing the damages in the first place?

This category could also be called, "The mishandling, misguidance and miseducation of our nation's youth in the arts."  Last Fall we reported on the untimely death by murder of YNOT in Miami; if you had the opportunity to read his story in depth, what becomes clear very quickly is that YNOT was extremely gifted and talented, but confronted by a system that did not know how to guide him in the right direction in education and in the arts.  He ended up finding his way to several crews and mentors to set him on the right path, but the system entirely failed him.

As Spoon wrote in Paint Kids' Fingers, budget cuts are going to leave a whole swath of children in need of artistic inspiration and guidance.  Graffiti and street artists are particularly well positioned to assume these roles if they are willing to step up to the plate in a way that all spectrums of society can admire and support them.

3. Graffiti as a Distraction from Other, More Important, Political Issues

As we wrote in our coverage of Askew's Buffing Crisis in Auckland , it's a waste of our government time and money to commit resources to buffing and cleaning up graffiti.  The general public continues to support politicians' anti-graffiti initiatives largely due to the "Broken Windows" Theory.  This theory says that graffiti creates environments where other citizens feel more comfortable breaking laws, such as petty theft.  

We say that graffiti is used as a low-hanging fruit for politicians to say they have fulfilled their campaign promises.  It's also the scapegoat for tackling what is really going on in poor, disadvantaged and dilapidated communities (unemployment, domestic violence, starvation, etc).  All we have to do is look at Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, encumbered with sex-related charges, he puts the spotlight on "cleaning" up Italy.

San Francisco's former Mayor Gavin Newsom picking up a can to paint with Chor Boogie at a community event in 2009.  Original Photo.

Newsom exhibiting hypocritical and backwards progress, announcing new anti-graffiti initiatives in 2010. Original Photo.

4. The Negative Effects of Graffiti Hate Crimes 

Graffiti Hate Crimes are a disease, and a hinge in efforts to normalize and espouse the virtues of graffiti and street art.  This week we reported on Irmela Mensha-Schramm, a woman who has committed over 20 years of her life to documenting and eradicating hateful graffiti.  Using spray cans to perpetuate hate among different cultural and religious groups continues to provide a thorn in our side and slow down the movement to gain graffiti artists more acceptance into culture and society.  Any search for "graffiti crimes" over the past 20 years is resplendent with hate crimes.  We must disassemble the connection between hate and graffiti.

5. Buffing Perpetuates Graffiti as a Nuisance

Photo: Chris Brennan, No Art Series

No matter how hard we look at buffing's potential virtues, in reality, the business of buffing does not do anything to make communities better.  If we look at the argument that graffiti vandalism lowers the property value of any given building or neighborhood, buffing does nothing to improve that value.  The mismatch colors simply remind the community that graffiti is a problem with no solution; the only solution could be to eradicate graffiti writers and come down hard on them with long sentences and hefty fines.

Of course this logic is incorrect, so what can we do to meet in between?  One place to start is more collaboration between the community and local artists to put beautiful pieces up in places that are often targeted by vandals.  Unfortunately, in the case of Askew & the Fairfax Artists, permission pieces are still under attack.

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