Monday, October 04, 2004

Arresting Art
At long last, two Metro Louisville Council members have quit pussyfooting around and come up with a plan to take strong action against the number one problem plaguing our community: graffiti. It's about time.

Graffiti is a blight on our city, from the clumsy artistic renderings to the bewildering symbolism to the atrocious spelling. But my beef with graffiti isn't that it exists; it's that it's so bad. I mean, c'mon, kids. Show a little pride!

The ideal solution would be to enroll all graffiti artists and graffiti-artist wannabes in art and spelling classes. (No Child Left Behind, are you listening?) Imagine talented art teachers supervising graffiti "taggers," ensuring that our interstate pillars bear some decent art -- art that represents our local culture and says something meaningful about the human condition. Better yet: employ art therapists to work with these children. Not only would it beautify our city, it would also heal the little cretins' souls. What a bargain!

But since we as a people can't afford to educate our children (sorry kids - we spent it all on prisons), two metro council members came up with the next best solution: they want to make it illegal for kids under 18 to buy permanent markers and spray paint. This, I am sure, will work. Because, after all, making it illegal for kids under 18 to buy cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs has completely eradicated those substances from our streets. How could a similar approach not work for graffiti?

The proposed ordinance, sponsored by Councilmen Dan Johnson (R-Mars) and Glen Stuckel (R-Neptune), would prohibit juveniles from possessing paint and markers and prohibit anyone from possessing those items if they intend to deface property. This intent, I'm guessing, would be based on the honor system:

Cop: I couldn't help but notice you've got a can of spray paint there. Do you possess it with intent to deface public property?

Tagger: Why, yes sir, as a matter of fact, I do.

Cop: Come along, then.

The ordinance would also prohibit businesses from selling those items to kids, thereby creating a whole new black market for fake IDs. What's more, private property owners whose property has been "tagged," must remove the graffiti or allow metro government to do it. (This provision gives me pause. What if I agree with the message spray-painted on my property? Sure, I'm going to remove hate messages, but what about "KILL YOUR TV?")

My concern is that the proposed law isn't tough enough. Kids are resourceful, at least when it comes to mischief. Take away the markers and the spray paint and they'll just turn to some other medium. To be completely graffiti free, we should outlaw pencils, pens, crayons, scented markers, sidewalk chalk, charcoal, and anything bearing the image of Dora the Explorer (not because of graffiti; I'm just weary of Dora).

Because the kids might get peeved and turn on us, we should also ban any office-supply items that might be used as weapons. Paper clips, staples, and scissors are all awfully sharp and pointy. Clearly, the time has come to outlaw all school supplies for our youth. Office Depot and Office Max should employ bouncers and check IDs at the door.

And the proposed punishment -- up to a $500 fine -- is inadequate. Heck, money is no problem for kids; they'll just go online and embezzle it from somebody's 401(k). What good would that do? No, we need tough penalties for taggers, applied on a sliding scale according to the severity of the violation. For the relatively mild offense -- say, "minor in possession of a Sharpie," Timeout. (Kids hate timeout.) For a minor in possession of spray paint, no chicken fingers for a week. That ought to send a message. But for more serious offenses, like a minor in possession of paint or markers with intent to deface public property, we should impose a tougher sentence: 30 hours of watching C-SPAN. A minor whose graffiti displays both sloppy art and misspelled words should be tarred and feathered. And a repeat offender who shows a history of ugly, poorly spelled graffiti and is in possession of a Dora the Explorer scented marker should be drawn and quartered.

Only by sending a strong message to these ne'er do wells will we restore our city to its untagged glory, where once again we can enjoy the unobstructed views of elevated interstates, scenic junkyards and informative billboards.

Finally, one last suggestion for the Metro Council: make the Kennedy bridge exempt from the anti-graffiti law. That might be our only hope for getting it painted.

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