One time in the fourth grade, a couple of my friends decided it would be funny to pour water all over a bus seat before the return leg of a three-hour class field trip. If everything went according to plan, an unsuspecting victim would sit down in said seat and react to the unfortunate discovery in a manner that would immediately draw attention to the wet spot forming on the seat of his pants.
There were two things learned that day.
First, soaking a bus seat does not pan out to be as funny as one imagines in his mind.
Second, and more importantly, a three-hour bus ride can feel like an eternity with an enraged, wet-bottomed teacher shooting glances at everyone within a two-seat radius of the dampest seat on the bus.
In the ensuing prosecution that took place that fateful day, my teacher grouped me in with the guilty party solely because I was friends with the offender. Luckily, others vouched for my innocence and I got out of the ordeal scratch-free.
Friends of spray can-wielding street taggers can only hope to be so lucky, if Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich gets his way.
As a way to help curb the graffiti problem that’s been ailing the city for so long, Trutanich is proposing a series of hard-line injunctions targeting “tagging crews,” groups of suspected vandals and their cohorts, which would include grounds for arrest of any persons caught in cahoots with taggers.
Under this proposed plan, renegade street taggers would be treated more like convicted murderers and drug lords than the public nuisances they often turn out to be.
Perhaps it’s for good reason — last year, there were more than 600,000 reported cases of vandalism in the city, an astounding number as is, but even more daunting when accounting for the thousands more instances that went unreported.
Additionally, while many taggers are of the adrenaline junky and misguided artist variety, there are also those who are tasked to tag certain areas as a way to mark areas of a certain gang’s domain or drug trafficking locations. While it may turn out to be true that Trutanich just has some sort of personal vendetta against large bridge-entrance murals, ostensibly this new set of harsh regulations seems to be more of a stand against the latter group of miscreants.
Harold: You and your purple crayon have been warned.
But while the intentions may be good, the aims do not seem to justify the means in this case.
Modeled off the restrictions set in place to monitor and quell any suspected gang activity, proposed injunctions would include police intervention in situations where two members of “tagging crews” engage in conversation, as well as the ability for police to send people to jail for hanging around those spraying graffiti. Not only might the police nab people who they catch — literally — red-handed, but also their friends who were caught clean-handed.
Whereas my possible punishments would’ve ranged from silent lunch to a loss of recess had I been roped into the party of guilty persons, members of “tagging crews” face much stiffer and grimmer prospects.
Granted, each injunction would have to be approved by a judge and would only apply to those accused of vandalism in the past.
Even so, this seems to be a rather harsh treatment for one inconvenient cosmetic issue.
Graffiti colors the city. It would be foolish to turn a blind eye and say otherwise. And while there are groups that admire these works of rogue art, there are others who have a much more personal stake in the aesthetic appeal of their neighborhoods and city (i.e., small business owners).
But it seems rather circular to bend the Constitution to take away an individual’s rights in an attempt to uphold the integrity of the city.
Rather than burning the house down to get rid of an ant problem, Trutanich should seek a much more pragmatic (and perhaps more constitutional) method of trying to tackle the graffiti problem.
You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game, no matter how badly you might want to win.
Soojin Yoon is a junior majoring in public relations. His column, “Boy Meets Word,” runs Thursdays.