Dave

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

San Antonio "Tagger" Wipeout Report

Saturday, my wife and I joined numerous residents from the Great Northwest along with thousands of other folks around San Antonio in the yearly San Antonio Graffiti Wipeout. We met with our group at Carlos Coon Elementary and following registration, some breakfast tacos and the distribution of paint, brushes, rollers and T-shirts, got started.This was our first time in the Wipeout event, but quickly learned how things happen. Prior to the event, City of San Antonio folks went through the neighborhood and identified areas that needed painting. They contacted residents to obtain permission to paint fences. In the event that the resident was not home, they left a release form to be completed.

Our first assignment was to take a group of folks to a fence that had already been approved for painting by the resident. The assignment sheet included the release form and a map with the location circled. Really well done in my opinion. Kudos to District 6.

Our group finished the first fence in no time, then moved on to a tagged drainage ditch - just because it was there - then noticed that a fence on a home across and just up the street was covered with tags from one end to the other. I called our city point of contact and was told that the resident had been given a release form, but it had not been signed.

At the time of the call, the resident was not home, so I walked over and talked to a neighbor and asked her if she thought we could paint the fence. She smiled and told me the folks were renters and pretty much avoided contact with anyone. But, in her mind, painting the fence would be okay. My city contact (understandably) didn't agree, and insisted we wait to get a signed form.

A short time later, my wife noticed that a car had pulled into the driveway of the house with the tagged fence. Another volunteer and I went back to the home and found the car in the driveway, keys in the ignition and running! My first thought was that the person ran into the house to grab something and would be out in a moment.

I rang the doorbell and waited to the sound of barking dogs, both inside and out. I just assumed that there was a poor guy sitting on the toilet, knowing that his car was running with the air conditioner on, and now some person was knocking on the door. How embarrassing!

So I rang the doorbell again and knocked on the door.

I looked out into the street at the volunteer waiting for me to get the release signed and pointed to the car and told her the engine was running. We both shrugged shoulders and I continued to wait at the door, occasionally knocking, hoping to keep the dogs engaged.

After almost 10 minutes (I'm pretty persistent), the driver suggested we leave and park on the side of the house. We knew that this resident did not want to be bothered, but we wanted that signature! We waited another five minutes and still, the car sat running in the driveway but the owner never left the house. And we never got permission to paint the worst fence in the area. And, I have no idea how long the car sat idling in the driveway!

We were assigned another house where the resident had not yet had a signed release, so I went to the door and rang the bell. I waited about two minutes and then knocked. I immediately heard a very thick Easter European accent yelling, Okay, okay!
The man answered the door and said he was a renter and was not sure about signing the release without the owner's permission. He didn't want to be responsible if the property owner didn't like how we painted the fence. In my best California Surfer accent, I said, "Dude, have you seen your fence?" referring to the extensive tags in multiple colors. Without hesitation, he grabbed the paper and said (as if her were Borat), "I sign; screw owner."

Here is my minor issue with this whole thing. Let me say up front that I am all for the idea of a "Graffiti Wipe Out", but I don't like the use of the term "Graffiti" when what we're covering is "tagging". Many people associate Graffiti with either an artistic value or even a political statement. Tagging on the other hand is like a dog pissing on a fence to mark territory. There is rarely any attempt at something artistic, it is simply vandalism. And as I have said and written before, I don't give a shit if you are painting the Mona Lisa; if you don't own the canvas or don't have the permission of the owner, don't do it on a fence or the outside wall of a business.

In this case, I think the city sends mixed signals by using the term, Graffiti Wipe Out, when later, they sponsor graffiti walls and murals in order to try to sway taggers into art. All good intentions, just mixed signals. I did ask our city rep about this and he gave me a laundry list of outstanding programs they have to basically turn potential taggers toward art before they go down that road. He said the city does not promote those blocked letter style walls (you've seen them on railroad cars and billboards where the taggers name is painted in some sort of blocked letter fashion). They do promote murals that involve actual painting of pictures. I guess we can just agree to disagree on the use of the term Graffiti versus Tagging.

The final complaint is the permission issue. A few years ago, the city was prepared to pass an ordinance that would fine the victims of tagging (graffiti) if they did not paint over the mess in a timely manner. It got bad press because in affect, you were punishing the victim.

I for one support this idea. Most people will paint over tagging the first few times or neighbors will help. But for many, they simply accept it as the norm. I say, Bullshit! If these people were forced to pay a fine for being a victim (think about that), they would DEMAND that the city take action to catch the criminals. You want to see action? Get the Chamber of Commerce standing in front of the City Council and the District Attorney holding their tickets, demanding that the little punks responsible be found, apprehended, prosecuted, and actually put in jail with the hard core criminals. Community service is an offensive joke to those of us who serve the community of our own free will.

Back to my second complaint. If someone tags a fence facing a public right of way and the owner does not take due diligence to fix it, do they not then surrender the right to stop the city or other citizens from correcting the problem? I think as a courtesy, anyone should ask the homeowner or business owner if they can help them correct the problem by painting over the taggers work. You never know, maybe the owner wants to repaint the whole fence a new color, or maybe they have contracted out to have the work done.

But what happens if the owner fails to respond or in the case of a renter, doesn't want to sign on behalf of the property owner? I submit that if the taggers did not obtain legal permission to paint a fence, why should volunteers spend more time trying to get permission to correct the problem than it would take to simply cover the offending tags.
Please don't take my complaints as an indication that this is a bad program. In fact, I was so pleased with how well organized our city reps were it actually gave me renewed pride in our District 6 office. These people are working hard to make things happen and I don't want to take anything away from that. But I have found in previous efforts at tagger remediation, that simply doing it and applying common sense on a case by case basis, you can cover a whole lot of territory very quickly. My wife and I agreed that it isn't much of a wipe-out if you have to skip every other tagged fence because some renter didn't want to be bothered with signing a ridiculous release form.

The good news is, as we painted fences, we had many horns honked approving of our work. We had a lady approach us and thank us for our efforts and we had another neighbor from the neighborhood we were in approach us and discuss his personal efforts to halt the tagging in his area.

Rudy was the man's name, and he had personally printed up hundreds of flyer's and distributed them to residents with public facing fences. He encourages people to simply plant bushes along the fence lines to discourage the taggers. In other words, cover the canvas and the taggers move on to the next available fence. Rudy also had other ideas including a plan that would have the city subsidize the planting of bushes. His plan was that if a resident had made three police reports regarding tagging on their property, the city would recognize the location as a habitual crime location and give the resident a coupon for discounted, fast growing bushes like Red Tips. What a great, proactive approach to solving this problem. I passed the info on to our city rep and he was already familiar with the flyer's and the proposed idea.
In the end, our group covered a good number of tagged fences and for the neighborhood, that is a good thing. Overall, District 6 led the city-wide volunteer competition to turn out the most volunteers with 220. They turned out 119 at John Jay High School alone, and if you are familiar with the area, you know they needed the help. Over 4,000 volunteers turned out to include many companies, city departments and non-profits - and folks like us.

6 comments:

Albatross said...

Kudos to you and you fellow painters. More people appreciate your work than you might realize.

At least you don't live on Old Tezel and have to deal with people that will tag their own fences!

Dave said...

Thanks.

At least you don't live on Old Tezel and have to deal with people that will tag their own fences!

They did get a sidewalk out of the deal.

Albatross said...

Amazing!

:-P

AlanDP said...

Punishing the victims will in no way do any good. For one thing, their "demands" will be ignored because after all the city just found another means of revenue generation. For another, there's nothing anyone can do about tagging other than to post guards on every fence in the entire city.

I know of an elderly lady on the west side who runs a little grocery store. Her outside wall (next to the street) gets constantly tagged. She paints over it every time. It gets tagged again. She told me once that she had painted it at 8:00 that morning and by 11:00 (when I showed up at her house to read her meter) it had been tagged again. Yes, they tagged it in broad daylight.

So she's supposed to be punished because she can't run outside to paint her wall every few minutes?

Dave said...

So she's supposed to be punished because she can't run outside to paint her wall every few minutes?

It is a point well taken and in fact that was the uproar that caused the city not to go forth with that policy.

I think the reason this poor lady gets tagged multiple times a day is not because she is an easy target, but because nobody is doing anything about it (besides her).

If this woman was repeatedly assaulted by neighborhood thugs, would the police not investigate and attempt to apprehend the people responsible?

My greater point was that a) the system treats taggers as a minor nuisance and not a crime, and b) if the lady in your example gave up on trying to paint over the tags, volunteers should be able to assist her with ease.

Anonymous said...

its funny how you people think its doing any good painting over walls. yall cant win this war and never will.

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I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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