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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Texas House Bill 218: My View...

I have a neighbor and fellow neighborhood volunteer who is very good about sending me information regarding various community activities that may be of interest. He passes along things such as invitations to Meet the Candidates nights, town hall meetings and information on classes being given by the city. I try to post the messages on the GNWatch Blog so people interested in the information can find it.

Several days ago, he sent me a notice about a Texas State Bill being sponsored by our representative, Jose Menendez. You can find the entire text of the bill here, but the short text is:

Excerpt: REGULATION OF SALE OF AEROSOL PAINT; SURCHARGE. (a) A county by order or a municipality by ordinance may require a person who sells aerosol paint to: (1) require proof of identification from the buyer before making a sale to that buyer; and (2) record the sale, including the identification information, in a log and maintain the log for at least two years after the date of the sale. (d) An order or ordinance adopted under this section may require a surcharge not to exceed one dollar on each ...

I have had the pleasure of meeting (if you consider shaking hands and briefly chatting, “meeting”) Representative Menendez several times over the years. First when he was running for the District 6 City Council seat at one of those candidate debates at Anson Jones Middle School, and another time at Westwood Terrace Elementary School. During those times, I was really impressed with him, especially when another candidate questioned his resume, and Jose was quick to whip out a certificate showing the degree being questioned.

Later, as he was walking the neighborhood campaigning, he happened upon my wife and I working in the garage of the house we had just purchased in Silver Creek, and he told us how we had bought the house right out from under him! He was a good sport about it, but really, what do you say? Uh, sorry.

So long story short, though I’m sure there are issues that I wouldn’t agree on 100 percent, like when he was among the group of legislators who left Texas to avoid having a quorum, I have repeatedly voted for Jose Menendez because I think he is an overall good representative and means to do positive things for our district.

After receiving the e-mail from my neighbor, I read through the proposed legislation put forth by Rep Menendez and I had to send a response back telling him that I totally oppose this effort. Yes, graffiti and specifically tagging is a problem. Not just in our neighborhood, city or in the state of Texas; it is everywhere. I applaud the efforts of people to address the problem, but seriously, this proposal is nothing more than “feel good”, “look at us, we are doing something” crap.

Let’s think this out. They want places like Home Depot or Lowes to check your ID when you buy a can of spray paint. Then they want them to log your name and keep a record of the transaction for 2 years. Then they want you to pay up to one dollar per can. Attention foes of the Patriot Act: feel free to pipe in now.

Forget the extra tax on the paint (to be used for what?); now people at hardware stores have to go through all this extra nonsense just to be in compliance with the law, when the fact is, it does nothing to stop tagging. I'm sure that will lower prices in a tough economy.

Think about this: The police show up to the crime scene. Someone has sprayed black paint on a fence. Does the officer call out the CSI people to come and do an analysis of the paint to determine where it came from? What store sold it? Let’s say hypothetically that the tagger leaves the can of spray paint on the ground and it actually identifies the Home Depot brand. Which Home Depot does the officer go to, and then, what does he look for once he has the list of all the people who purchased a can of spray paint in the last two years? Now, count the number of times there is a new fence tagged in San Antonio everyday. And times in the state of Texas, every day. Keep in mind; we are still talking about a misdemeanor.

I’m sure Rep Menendez means well, but this is bad legislation and does nothing, zero, notta, to solve the problem. So what do we need?

For starters (and there are other efforts underway to pursue this), we need to put first time offenders, regardless of age, in jail, even if it is only for a few nights. We need to make the offender (and parents of juveniles) liable for the damage. We need to tie the amount of that damage to all of a taggers combined offenses, not just the one he was caught doing. In other words, if a guy is known as “Joe the Tagger” and he has marked up buildings and fences over a period of a year with a JTT symbol and is finally caught, he should be required to be held accountable for all the damage that can be reasonably proven to have been caused by him. This is why I always take pictures of the graffiti in my area. And I have a huge collection.

I am a fan of community service, but I oppose community service being tied to anything that the offender would otherwise be doing. For example, I have heard that some judges will assign a number of hours of community service to an offender, to be carried out in that offender’s church. Really? If a kid is in the Scouts, don’t give him community service that will help him get a few more merit badges. Community service must be meaningful and pay restitution to the community harmed.

I think convicted taggers including first offenders should have their pictures displayed on a web page. Adults and Minors. If the newspaper can print the picture of the student of the week, there is simply no excuse that we should not know which teens amongst us are convicted taggers. More importantly, we need to know which parents have kids that are convicted taggers. In the same way you can go online and do a search by Zip code to find out who the registered sex offenders are in your neighborhood, I want to be able to go on-line and see a picture of the kid who tags, and what his known tagging signature is. That way, if it shows up again on a fence, everyone knows who did it. I suspect that will create a far better deterrent than paying a dollar extra for a can of spray paint.

I am a huge fan of peer pressure. I would like to know what our schools are doing about ostracizing the taggers in the same way they teach children about how bad their parents are for smoking or drinking? If a tagger is caught defacing a school, in addition to whatever other trouble the kid gets into, his face needs to be plastered on the wall as a vandal. For some, this will surely be a badge of honor, however, this type of thing can motivate parents to keep an eye on their own kids. Not that most of these parents attend PTA meetings, but if as part of one of those meetings, the school police officer listed a who’s who of taggers with associated markings, other parents might recognize similar tagging in the neighborhood and be prompted to let the parents know about it. The last thing a parent wants is the neighbor coming over to tell them that Little Jimmy has been tagging the fence again.

If people want to spend tax money on something beyond arresting these offenders, why not spend it on MTV? Better yet, why don’t MTV and other youth oriented media have ongoing campaigns to deglamorize this vandalism? Instead of “Rock the Vote”, how about, “Beat the crap out of the tagger!” I’d approve of that message. I know that the city of San Antonio has Graffiti eradication programs to try to get youth to move from tagging toward art. That’s fine, but much of the problem is not artistic in any way at all, it is pure vandalism and marking of gang (or wannabe gang) territory. Why no public service announcements on local TV showing taggers to be the losers they are?

When do we stop simply painting over the vandalism and start doing something about it? I have learned that this type of vandalism isn’t something that the police are going to send multiple squad cars, blaring sirens, and sealing off streets and neighborhoods as helicopter flies overhead doing a search with K9 units going house to house. Yet, this vandalism is systematically creating the appearance of a deteriorating neighborhood and lowering the values of homes. Many good families are opting to leave rather than stay. Many homes are purchased as investment properties and rented out increasingly as Section 8 homes, bringing in people who often do not have the financial wherewithal to maintain a home beyond the minimal rent they pay.Meanwhile, I call the city of San Antonio at least once a week (usually several times) to report that Oscar Perez Memorial Park has been tagged again. The city Parks Department sends a crew out, the tagging is painted over and more often than not, the next day, some new tagging is present.The city built some sort of small baseball diamond park right next to Nelson Wolff Municipal Stadium on Callaghan Road near Hiway 90. I pass this place on my way to work each morning and after over a year, I notice that they still have one of these surveillance systems installed. This system is monitored and it will light up with spotlights, sirens and verbal warnings if someone trespasses. You see these things in use at a lot of construction sites. Don’t you think it is time that the city start installing these things in areas, like Oscar Perez Memorial Park, so we can begin to identify the taggers, or heaven forbid, deter them from tagging the park in the first place?

I’m sure there are many other productive ways to deal with this growing problem but I got a suggestion from my brother who is a big fan of caning. We are reminded of that kid in Singapore several years ago who was caught and convicted of tagging and vandalism. The punishment: caning. I suspect that kid never tagged there again.

My brother’s idea is slightly different. What is missing from the current process is the punishment factor. A kid is sent to see a judge for truancy or maybe even tagging. The judge orders the kid to go to school and perform some community service hours. My brother suggests that each courtroom be assigned a professional spanker. That is, a guy who is certified to assess body size, weight, muscular structure etc, and then equipped to deliver an exact, certified paddling to the offender, in front of courtroom spectators. The first appearance in court would result in two solid whacks. Each subsequent appearance would add two more whacks. If a kid gets up to 8 or 10 whacks, he is surely ready for some jail time. Just a thought. I know, the days of corporal punishment are long gone, but we can dream.

My wife will tell you that I am overly passionate about this subject. I tend to be long winded and my blood pressure tends to elevate each time I talk to a person about the problem of tagging in our area and in our city. In truth, I could simply turn a blind eye to it like many others have. I could pretend that the little scribbling along fences I drive past adds a sort of artistic urban flavor to the place. After all, these are just young people looking for an outlet, right? I don’t mean to pick on Rep. Menendez’ attempts to do something, but I’m afraid he has neither researched this topic adequately, nor added anything useful toward the fight.

I do not believe that most of the taggers get their paint at Home Depot. I believe it comes from art stores, via the internet and in local stores that have nothing to do with hardware. I’m sure some of it comes from the garages and sheds of unsuspecting parents, grandparents and neighbors. Putting yet another requirement on businesses that ultimately will yield very little change is in my mind, the wrong approach. I encourage you to do a little research on your own. Google is your friend; type in “Graffiti Supplies” and learn more. And do like me, and take a minute to send Representative Menendez your thoughts on how we might better handle this problem.

And of course, you can tell me your ideas.


Albatross said...

Good post. Your words echo my feelings about taggers.

KeithAlanK said...

When you look at the government's inability to deliver money where it was supposed to go according to every new legislation passed, that's yet another strike against this worthless idea.
Making law abiding rattlecan users pay for the hookers and coke and poolboys our lawmakers apparently need just insults our intelligence.
Lotto$$ is for Education? Fail.
Already paid-for 281 North lanes?
The list is endless.

"Where can we get a dollar here and a dollar there from decent folks, and make it seem like a good enough idea that they can't really complain?"

I usually try to stay non-political online, but I saw a recent headline where the President-Elect's economic stimulus package will "suddenly" (oops!) cost 4 times as much as he said before the election. So much for "change".

Call it bait and switch, lies, theft, or just moneygrubbing politician bastards...why they are allowed to get away with this BS is a mystery to me.
Oh wait--99 percent of the population are mindless sheep.

There you have it.

Anonymous said...

Hey there, I'm a Silver Creeker, and I enjoy your blogs. I may not agree with all of them, but I do love reading your accounts of the goings on around our 'hood. I'm also a teacher in an Alternative School, and I've been teaching students who've been kicked out of their home campuses for one offense or another. I've been at it for almost twenty years.

While your caning idea may make those poor souls who are the victims of the tagging feel MUCH better, it really won't curtail the urge to tag since most of them are beaten pretty regularly anyway--hence the tagging, drug abuse, gang-banging and other destructive behaviors.

I do wish I could legally share the pictures and IDs of various tags that we collect, but that would violate the annonymity of kids who feel the need to write their freakin' names all over the walls of the city. How's that for irony?

Speaking of tagging ... Would you happen to know why the H.E.B. on Grissom and Tezel has not removed the tagging on their wall for almost a year now?

Dave said...

Howdy Neighbor,

Thank you for the work you do at the alternative school. I'm sure it must be both rewarding and frustrating to see some of the youngsters and the situations they find themselves in as the result of really crappy parents.

While the caning was my brother's idea, I think the aspect that you are missing is the public nature of it. Bad parents have beat innocent (and not so innocent) kids forever. The issue has less to do with the pain inflicted but the public nature of it. When you see the results of the child abuse in your classes, you are seeing the victims of a private crime that has taken place. Meting out public punishment - like that Sherri ff in AZ who makes the inmates wear pink boxers is intended to turn the guilty party into a public spectacle. The offender should be humiliated in hopes that his tagging isn't as cool as he thought it was. I confess that I don't know the efficacy of such punishment - I'll leave that to the so called experts.

I appreciate that you can't share the tags associated with IDs of the young taggers. And I have no need for them. I'm not seeking to take the law into my own hands, only in a small way change the way the law handles this problem. I'll be happy to send you the links of MySpace web pages with the same pictures you probably have taken by the actual taggers. Maybe that would help you in your job. Feel free to e-mail me.

Finally, I suspect that the HEB on Grissom and Tezel has faced the financial reality that, with no enforcement of laws or efforts to prosecute the taggers, why should they spend the time, money and effort to paint over what will be back in days, or sometimes hours. Sadly, I see this as a a nail in the coffin for this general area.

The truth is, the tagging problem is no different than shoplifting. Think about it. When was the last time you saw SAPD patrolling the aisles of HEB looking for shoplifters, in spite of the fact that we know shoplifting is a major financial issue for companies. Instead, the stores are required to catch the shoplifter, be able to detain them, have evidence on tape (or witnesses), and in effect, do the work of the police.

Tagging is the same way. It is the problem of the victim to not only fix (paint over or clean-up) the damage, but if they want to catch the vandals, catch them in the act. The police are not going to patrol the streets of The Great Northwest (or anywhere else) and proactively investigate every tagged fence. Someone has to complain, and even then, what is there to investigate, and will the DA waste their time on it considering all the other issues to work?

I appreciate your comments and don't mind that you don't agree with everything I write. My wife doesn't agree with everything I write either, so you are in pretty good company!

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San Antonio, TX, United States
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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