Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

American Graffiti

I have always hated graffiti. In my small Ohio hometown, there was always one small, out of the way underpass that was covered in it. There, and only there, kids knew that their "art" would be untouched. So it tended to contain itself and it seemed to be limited, more or less, to local high school rivalries. But even then and in that limited context, I found it ugly, disrespectful, and obnoxious.

But now I live in Los Angeles and I have seen this policy of tolerant containment prove to be pretty ineffective. The rivalries here are stronger and over things much less innocent than which high school football team is the "baddest". Sometimes it involves gangs, and sometimes just bored kids with nothing better to do and no one intelligent enough to give it to them. Whatever the case, it scars the community and supports a culture of slovenliness, disrespect, and despair. Nevertheless, it continues to have its advocates. This link is courtesy of a relative who is a long-time employee of Cal-trans and has a very different view of these matters than the one described here.

To call these vandals "artists" (whatever their accomplishments post-criminal activity may be), strikes me as patently goofy. Why glorify something that is so destructive to the rights of others? Why glorify something that is so destructive to the well-being of the community. Rudy Giuliani’s "broken windows" theory is absolutely correct in this instance. If people want to paint in a graffiti style--God bless them. But get some paper.

Discussions - 25 Comments

Predictably, I agree with the LA times article. I also think it is going too far to say that graffiti is so destructive of the rights of others, or that it is destructive to the well being of the community. As the article notes in many cases graffiti is by far a lesser evil than smoking crack...(The at least I am not Hitler school of ethics? but shouldn’t that be factored in..we aren’t talking about cowtown Kansas, or Richwood Ohio...which begs the question destructive to the community how?). But what is it that intrinsically makes the gray drab impossed by city officials less destructive of the rights of the community, than a little color and spice graffiti? Does one group have a right to the drab while another has a right to the colorfull? I would say so...the suggestion that they should use paper entirely ignores the medium. All things considered graffiti is destructive when it ruins private property...the case is a little less clear on public property...but I would concede it as vadalism...provided that one agrees with Lewis(no relation) that businesses should be able to santion it if they so choose.

"Now, he and others say they believe one way to stop unwanted graffiti is to get businesses to sanction street art. Lewis said he often approaches business owners about using their exterior walls. With days to work unimpeded, he has created elaborate murals, some of which he said have stayed up for as long as a decade.
Still, Lewis said some of his works have been painted over by business owners warned by police or city officials that the mural was unauthorized. "They’re categorizing it all as the same," he said. "But it doesn’t stop new graffiti from going up."

Explain to me how the concept of rights intrinsically favors my seeing fresh whitewash instead of graffiti...and if I have a right to see fresh whitewash...would it stay as fresh without grafitti...or is because one group takes an interest in it that suddenly another group steps up to say...hey that wall is mine...stop it..this is aesthetically better...would anyone really care otherwise?

If the cops and CALTRANS didn’t know already, now they know for sure who the perpetrators are. They should be shadowed. It hope that was the point of this exercise, rather than trying to give taggers a legitmate outlet. Their "art" stinks.

I also think it is going too far to say that graffiti is so destructive of the rights of others

Wow. You have obviously never lived in southern California, John. For every 1 piece of graffiti "art" here, there are 10s of thousands of gang graffiti markings. These markings are, in virtually all cases, stakes of territorial rights to which the taggers have no actual rights, often times direct challenges to other gangs to defend themselves against the taggers and virtually always an eyesore, expensive to repair. Caltrans spends about $1.5 million annually to remove graffiti. They don’t spend that kind of money to remove it because it’s purty and they’re not alone in spending that kind of money. Every city in southern CA has a gang graffiti problem. Many private property owners have constant problems with bangers spraying their fences, businesses and even houses. I had my garage door sprayed just a few months ago.

I suggest anyone who thinks graffiti is tolerable be a realtor trying to sell property/homes in an area riddled with graffiti.

In regards to public property ...

We all know that while the community may technically own public property, the community can not do as she wishes to it.

In regards to levels of crime ...

Assault is a lesser evil than murder, but so?

Really, should we not try to stop petty crime?

If so, then why do arrest so many people for crime like assault, family violence, drinking while driving, etc when they are mostly petty crimes?

You know, we could really reduce the crime stats by eliminating all or most of the petty crime off the books.

However, I guarantee you that the reduction would be statistical only, nothing real, and that the public would suffer many evils by the thugs that commit the petty crimes.

Crime and criminals will always be with us, but that does not mean we should tolerate it nor should we be resigned in combating it.

By the by, in my comment regarding public property ....

I meant that while the community may own public property, an individual of the community can not do whatever they want to on the property.

John, I suggest you visit the "broken windows" theory of crime. Graffiti encourages a sense of disorder, which in turn encourages more criminal’s the problem of anarchy. And of course I know you will argue for "good" graffiti versus "ugly" graffiti, but in my eyes it’s all ugly...the very embodiment of chaos. No one’s private property should be abused this way, and public property is ALL our property...if people want to allow graffiti then they’ll have to have a vote.

Actually, it’s a small part of a much larger problem -- individual expression in an ordered society. Socialization teaches us disciplined ways to express ourselves...ways that do not interfere with the rights of others as well as respecting the sensibilities of others. Graffiti is the antithesis of ordered, disciplined’s like visual rape (uhoh, here comes the TrollPatrol).


Did you ever stop and think that most people here actually don’t agree with your lunancy and that in fact all the people who attack you are actually different people especially considering the fact that several use the same names they have been for months or even years? All you do is make blanket statements and when several people USE YOUR own reasoning and your own blanket statements (for the sole purpose of exposing your hipocrisy) YOU LASH OUT and call them names on a daily basis. (Funny since you accuse other people of doing this a lot.)

Could it be because you are "mental dwarf "


1)I’m aware of Dain Ironfoot...he is my namesake. Congratulations on stumbling upon the obvious. As the most talented artificers in Middle Earth, these were not mentally challenged creatures.

2) Who’s the mental pygmy, me or you? At least I know how to use the blog tools.

3) Anyone who has followed my posts knows that I often provide substantive comments and evidence. Sometimes I also offer sweeping opinions...what of it? I assure you, every position I take can be defended with rigor and reason.

4) No, the trolls are just a couple of people...Dan. Now go follow someone weary me with your juvenile prattle.

We visited Rome in 2004 and I was really disgusted with the amount of graffitti in the city.

And it’s not just confined to newer buildings and bridges, etc. It’s on 1000 year old buildings, historical treasures, etc.

How do the loons who think this is all just dandy feel about it when it’s on "historically preserved" properties? So the city should force the owners of an old building to preserve it, but when local delinquents write the "F" word all over it, it’s just post-modern art, right?

BTW, how about we ask those who support public graffitti to allow the little artistic darlings to decorate their house?

Anyone who has followed my posts knows that I often provide substantive comments and evidence.

Keep telling yourself that. What we do know though is at 10 people if not more frequently disagree you. However, you refer to them all as trolls. Your latest accusations assert that Scanlon and Phil are trolls even though we know that they have been posting on this blog for YEARS!!!!!!!! Why do you assert such things? Because you have are clueless and have nothing of substance.

Man for your for the sake of your students I hope you are different to people who disagree with you in the classroom.

Correction.*** At least 10 people if not more, frequently disagree with you.

Correction 2*** Man for your sake and for the sake of your students .....

What we do know though is at 10 people if not more frequently disagree you. Since there’s no way to prove this, your "opinion" is no more valid than mine. However, I think ’Death’s Jester’ knew exactly what he/she was talking about. There are like 2 or 3 trolls...bored, crap-for-brains Ashland students most likely. Grow up, Dan.

Man for your for the sake of your students I hope you are different to people who disagree with you in the classroom. Where do you get these ideas? Not everyone who is culturally literate is a college professor.

Anyone who has followed my posts knows that I often provide substantive comments and evidence. Indeed I do, unlike you. I keep waiting for you to make a comment on graffiti (instead of me)...just not up to it, I suppose...the very epitome of a troll.


I highly doubt your new policy dain. You’ve claimed before that you were leaving NLT for good, but you were back after only a week or two. Although maybe your strategy here is to just change your definition of "troll" on a daily, as-needed basis. Respond and call people names when you need to boost your ego, and ignore them when you’ve been trounced in the debate.

Your pseudonym comes from Tolkien? Do you also re-enact sword battles in your backyard from your favorite games of Dungeons & Dragons?

"Respond and call people names when you need to boost your ego, and ignore them when you’ve been trounced in the debate."

Sounds a lot like his old stategy too.


Good. Maybe now the trolls will go tag somewhere else.

One can only hope, UG. But whether they do or don’t, I’m ignoring them from here on in.

Fair enough...good objections...truth be told I know nothing of California...big city life or gangsta’s...supposedly the army is worried about graffiti because we have cause to believe gangs are infiltrating the armed forces in order to get trainning. But the way I figure it...graffiti in a small town is rather tame all things considered. My senior year I spray painted my schools mascot on an opposing teams field the night before our game...we won the game...barely. I probably shouldn’t have done was wrong...but it probably did something to highten the experience of playing...increase the hate/rivalry...In other words the graffiti while itself being bad and wrong worked to increase rivalry which in the context of football is generally seen as a good thing... when done for school pride... But supposing these gangs use graffiti to generate hate/rivalry...this is not a good thing because there is no productive outlet (such as football) for this pent up rage...except bullets... The context/perspective of of the article led me to believe that graffiti was the outlet itself...(which in some cases it probably is...) If the choice is between doing crack shooting themselves or doing some graffiti I much prefer the graffiti. Thus in the context of LA and gang culture...graffiti is the least of the problems...the amount of money spent on repainting is just an effort to whitewash the underlying problems.

As a side note I don’t believe in the broken window theory...I believe in the broken window fallacy which is something else altogether (namely that destruction leads to economic growth since it creates work for the window maker...) and I don’t want to be guilty of this fallacy by saying that graffiti creates economic growth by helping makers of paint on both sides of the I won’t... But back to the broken window theory... It is not altogether true. The true reason is not that chaos makes people more chaotic...Uncle Guido is unlikely to partake evern in an anarchic society...what really happens is that police forces are limited and graffiti taxes the police force and the courts...the police force goes after whatever is easiest to catch...or conversely prioritizes and allows the "petty" crime to flourish... If they go after what is easiest to catch they create a Darwinian criminal climate where only the best (and therefore worst) survive...If they prioritize they basically make the consequences of "petty" crime nil...thus if they prioritize their is a strong broken windows type effect.... But my critique is that a broken windows effect is in some ways better than a Darwinian criminal climate...If the bloods are truely a serious terror it isn’t because the street signs have a little paint on is because the dumpsters have bodies and the streets are awash in drugs. When our policy makers talk about a broken window effect they are just justifying cleaning up what is easiest to clean up. But is it really worth while busting all the dumbasses? What does that leave us? the trully street wise criminal thugs who know how to opperate prudently/smartly. If the Russian mafia is involved does it publisize itself...or does it maintain a low profile? If only Osama liked to spray paint his caves....

My point...spray painters are wannabe thugs...but a true thug doesn’t wanna anything...nor is he worried about "credentials" is strictly business...contrary to the premise of the broken window theory ceteris paribus we should be better off in a society where crime happens in the this way criminals forget to cover tracks and advance more by overt means that are also easier to bust...rather than by more prudent fashions. Of course some may say that the Darwinian theory of crime would preclude arresting any crooks...but of course this is not what I am saying... I am saying we just have to watch the educating effects of arrests...Lets go after the hardest people first...otherwise the crooks will just have to be faster than the other guy in the woods with the bear. If we go after the best...then we create a counter evolutionary criminal mechanism...only the dumbest and most blatantly foolish survive... and when it comes to crooks this is a good thing. Do we really want to arrest the idiot who wraps his pot in tin foil and walks through a metal detector at the airport? But why does a police force even take pride in busting these idiots???

If you ask me...a get tough on crime policy lets the idiots survive and targets the true wise guys.

Not all ’broken windows’ get fixed.

As a police officer, I assert that it is very hard to catch those that tag property or spread their ’art’.

How do we know that most taggers are pseudo-thugs? We don’t and that is the problem, besides thuggery comes in many forms and graffiti is one form, especially since it can intimidate the property owners or prospective property owners.

Also, I absolutely reject that just because it may be a milder form of crime than many others it should be tolerated.

In Texas, graffiti is a higher crime than a traffic violation which means I can’t just give you a ticket for tagging a send you on your way. You are arrested if caught tagging, simple as that.

Such logic of ignoring small crime is wrong and very detrimental to catching bigger criminals.

How many times have you heard news reports about how some big time criminal has been caught due to some minor traffic violation? If I, as a police officer, should ignore those that change lanes without signaling, a very, very minor crime, I would be denying myself and the community at large the opportunity of increasing the chances of catching those that commit worse crimes.

Why should we as a community deny ourselves this opportunity?

Anyway, graffiti and crime tend to go together anway, or at least appear that way and appearances goes a long way towards how a community feels about it self.

Good points Dale...lots of criminals are idiots...or perhaps they are criminal in an unwise way...I always wonder how someone who is hauling large quantities of pot can be caught for speeding of all things! I guess he is smoking too much of his supply....

All too often I would suppose that you are entirely correct... someone runs a red pull them over and boom you find an outstanding warrant. Idiot/undisciplined criminals are why organized crime flourishes... the police bust the ones who do not stay on high alert.

I am willing to defer or agree to everything you say in the matter of Julie isn’t really my bag of tea. I am not prepared to defend it aesthetically, nor do I want to do so.

But here again...I was wondering if you think that the criminal system actually deters criminals or if it just catches the dumb ones. If there is a demand for some criminal activity people will come foward for the right price to engage in it... provided we lift the criminal penalty for that activity in the short run we can reduce the number of people for whom the price is right... but the reduced number of "vendors" allows these criminals to receive monopoly or oligopoly type wages...with increased prices more people are encouraged to enter. The justice system does succeed in busting some of the bad guys...but in doing so it effectually provides monopoly protection for the smartest, wisest crooks... the people who know what papers to keep...the people who know better than to speed, drive drunk, not wear seat belts, or otherwise engage in "petty/unnecessary" crime. Gangs are basically groups of organized criminals..gangs are held together by the repository of criminal knowledge held by members that in turn allows them to flourish in an environment where the small time individual wishing to enter the market would no doubt get busted. Now in my opinion if you believe that graffiti is a gang activity then a lot of these gangs aren’t too smart about keeping a low profile...perhaps the Chinnese or Russian Mafia will step into the void once we bust the foolish bloods...then at least we won’t have graffiti or perhaps it won’t be connected with drug traffic or other serious business. My point... given a Darwinian view of crime eventually graffiti’s connection to organized crime will evaporate and be seen as a historical accident . Come on...what would the Godfather say about graffiti?

What is ironic is that sometimes people drive too well and that in and of itself may draw unwanted attention by the police.

Some graffiti is juvenile pranks or attempts at making a street name while other graffiti is gang related.

I wouldn’t have a problem with graffiti if the intent was to beautify the property, but that is rarely, if ever, the intent.

Graffiti is a form of criminal mischief in which the person committing the act is willfully/intentionally damaging someone else’s property. That fact alone should be enough to codemn such acts, even if the intent of the act is to somehow make said property better.

I am of the view that we should tolerate graffiti, but we have to be realistic. When a city has a lot more serious crime happening, the smaller stuff tends to fall by the wayside, so a graffiti call may not be serviced or even placed by a complainant.

A lot of crime is a crime of opportunity or a crime of passion, which normally doesn’t involve a lot of intelligence to commit. Even crime that involves some forethought isn’t rocket science. Seriously, how intelligent do you have to be to point a gun at someone and tell them to give you their money?

I am no expert in regards to crime, but one thing is for sure, you want to make the citizens mad, you ignore the petty crime.

Ooops, I meant ...

I am NOT of the view that we should tolerate graffiti, but we have to be realistic

Defend America against Graffiti?

Please, maybe the GOP could propose a constitutional amendment...

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