Steel View: Issue 3 editorial; Graffiti Crackdown
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Editorial: Graffiti Crackdown
2012 has been widely accepted as a brilliant year for the UK. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Sir Bradley Wiggins becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France, Andy Murray becoming the first male Grand Slam winner from the UK since Fred Perry in 1936, and the successes of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
However scratching the surface reveals a desperately sad year for many urban subcultures – none more so than the graffiti scene. Following on from 2011 and the high profile imprisonment of Tox, graffiti writers such as Dotcom, Noir, Hoover KC, SMT crew and Zerx have been handed custodial sentences ranging from 12 months to Tox’s mammoth 27 month stint.
At the same time as these sentences are being handed out, Banksy’s stock is ever rising – which raises the question of the difference between the two groups. Admittedly Banksy has a much larger public following and the backing of several high profile and wealthy men and women, however this does not make his use of stencilled street art more legally legitimate than the all-city tagging of Tox. If the police were to plough as many resources into finding and jailing Banksy as they have in the pursuit of a number graffiti writers this year, then it would be an open-and-shut case.
Unfortunately it is not that simple. Perceived artistic ability seems to go a long way to deciding a street artist/graffiti writer’s fate. If Tox had mirrored the huge mainstream success of Banksy, would he currently be sitting inside a prison cell and would the prosecutor in his case have said “he is no Banksy. He doesn’t have the artistic skills”? The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) should stop selectively jailing graffiti writers and decide whether or not to pursue all acts of street art and graffiti and give equitable punishments. To pick and choose prosecutions based on a subjective preference such as ‘artistic ability’ is ludicrous.
In graffiti based cases the cost of repairing the damage is cited to influence the length of the sentence. They include labour, paint, cleaning chemicals, paint brushes, rollers, protective suits etc, and are often grossly exaggerated. However if we take this cost in the case of Zerx, convicted of causing £80,000 worth of criminal damage, and then add the cost of keeping him in prison for 12 months – around £40,000, that’s a total cost of £120,000 to the tax payer. Community orders for cleaning graffiti appear to be a more cost effective and all round better solution. This would completely remove the £40,000 prison cost, and significantly reduce the labour cost for removing the graffiti.
During the ongoing economic slump, politicians are constantly looking to cut costs where possible and in his first full year in the job, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling will be sure to want a reduction in the prison population. Ending jail time for graffiti artists would be a big step towards achieving both goals. Currently we have people like Noir ATS sitting in a prison cell, a man who created the backdrop for Tinie Tempah’s performance at the London Olympic opening ceremony, and who has been involved in many community projects. Use electronic tagging if necessary, but keep these people in the community and utilise their abilities.