"Graffiti Violation"
by An English 414 Student
Graffiti is a form of art that people use to express themselves and to convey various messages to people in a particular community. In the movie "Graffiti Verite':. One of the graffiti artist explained that his purpose in doing graffiti is that it allows him to "express his anger' on the wall. Another kid by the name of "Jipsie" said that graffiti is a "form of growth". There were several different explanations that artists shared as well as several different reasons why they like graffiti. The common theme among the graffiti artist and taggers was that graffiti is simply a form of self-expression (Bryan). At the end of the film one tagger made a comment and said, "graffiti is not vandalism, but it is a beautiful crime". This comment did not make sense to me. Committing a crime, a hideous act, is not a beautiful thing to do by any means. Graffiti does not mean people can go around and draw and spray paint on other peoples property. Regardless of what types of graffiti are being expressed by the tagger, this type of self expression is considered vandalism when people decide to draw, destroy, or violate any persons property without consent. As a result of taggers committing the crime of vandalism, property owners, concerned citizens, and law enforcement officers spend too much time, money, and energy trying to put an end to the unlawful act of vandalism.

        Looking from the taggers' point of view, one can understand why taggers and graffiti artists draw and do graffiti, but this does not justify the fact that often times this form of self-expression is not acceptable when it is done on other peoples property. Having the opportunity to listen (film, class, talk show) to why taggers and graffiti artists do graffiti has given me some understanding as to needs and desires are trying to be fulfilled. The Barry Ringer Show which was held in class was a very insightful experience because it allowed a police officer, a property owner, a  tagger and a graffiti artist to come together and talk about their different points of view. To die, a tagger representing TCP crew, made some very important points about needing to establish "a sense of identity" as well as a very strong need to be "known" and "accepted" in his crew. While I can certainly understand graffiti is a way in which ~taggers express themselves, the fact is that it is against the law to do this on other peoples property!

        Graffiti is considered vandalism when tagger's violate the laws, and violate what is not theirs. Vandalism, destruction of property, is a misdemeanor in most cases. A misdemeanor is a crime which is punishable by one year in the county jail and/or a fine. The California penal code (which consists of California laws and penalties) has several penal code sections specific to graffiti violations. The penal code Notation description is as follows. Any person who maliciously commits any of the following acts with respect to any real or personal property not his or her own, in cases other than those specified by state law, is guilty of vandalism; such acts include defaces with graffiti;, (or other scribed material), damage to property, or destruction of property. Property consists of vehicles, public signs, fixtures, or furnishings belonging to any public entity. Obviously, the California state laws are very strict on this type of crime. They don't recognize (nor do they care) that taggers need to establish identities. The fact of the matter is that vandalism is against the law.

        Property owners, concerned citizens and law enforcement officers spend too much time and money dealing with the hassles of taggers constantly drawing on property. Property owners are always having to pay extra money to constantly have their stores and homes repainted or cleaned up. Concerned citizens are also affected in a big way because they are tax payers and much of the tax money is spent on cleaning. Supervisor Mable Teng, a concerned citizen, talks about her experience of  driving  by a gas station on 7th & Irving. She said that she would constantly see "smeared tags" on the wall every other week. Supervisor Teng was "fed up" and fortunately she was in a position where she could do something about it. She proposed creating a special San Francisco police unit to nab the most destructive scribblers. The City's Department of Public Works spends some $2 million a year for its crews and volunteers (like Teng) to repaint 1.3 million square feet of walls, garage doors, lamp posts, mail and fire boxes and the list goes on (Epstein, A17). As we can see, there is a lot of money involved as well as a lot of time trying to combat this problem.

        There is a lot of work and energy that goes into trying to combat the problem. While home owners and concerned citizens invest energy volunteering to help clean up, police officers invest much time and energy into finding out who the graffiti vandals are and arresting them. The San Francisco Police Department has its own Graffiti Task Force. The officers on the task force have a list of crew members, names and monikers. The list consists of locations where crew members hang out and other relevant information that is helpful in assisting officers. There is a long process that officers go through once they encounter a tagger who has committed the crime of vandalism. The graffiti offender must be interviewed; he may give more information about other taggers that could help in making other arrests. The juvenile is then "processed", which means that they are finger printed and given a San Francisco number which all known criminals have. This entire process takes a very long time and many officers are involved in this. Needless to say, police officers invest many hours (working overtime) trying to get these taggers and such time is valuable and can probably be utilized for other purposes such as more community service work as opposed to placing so much time and energy on taggers and Vandalism calls.

        Based on the fact that so much time is spent on combating graffiti vandalism incidences, there must be a solution to the problem. Even though within the week alone in the Taravaral district, ten people were arrested for graffiti violations. This is ultimately not the solution to the problem. The kids end up back on the street doing the same thing again and again. Graffiti artists should be allowed to express themselves for whatever reasons. Human expression is a normal need. Establishing an identity is crucial because ultimately, it will determine adult relations and functions later on down the line. There are all different types of graffiti. For example, reading the article on graffiti: The Dictionary of Art, Susan Phillips mentions a few different types of graffiti such as political graffiti, gang graffiti, and graffiti art which all represent different meanings and different types of self-expression. "The simplified imagery of graffiti has become attractive to certain professional fine artists in various areas around the world" (Philips). The point that I am making is that various forms of graffiti are beautiful and the need to express ones' self is part of what being a human being is all about. I don't see a problem with the reasoning behind why graffiti artists do graffiti and why taggers tag. It becomes a problem when they use other people's property (including public and city property) to express themselves via graffiti and tagging.

Work Cited

Bryan, Bob "Graffiti  Verite'" (Movie), 1996.

Epstein, Edward. "SF Takes on Urban Scrawl". San Francisco Chronicle  April 1, 1999. A17, A22.

Philips, Susan A. Graffita Defanition: The Dictionary of Art. London: Macmillan Publisher. On press), 1996.


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SFSU Student Essays reproduced with permission of the Student(s).
All Student (s) Essays were submitted by Professor L. Barroca, San Francisco State University.
Copyright, 1999, All Rights Reserved
Graffiti Verite' / GV2, International Graffiti Art Competition