We have L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to thank for keeping dangerous criminals like Cristian Gheorghiu — the graffiti artist better known as Smear, who has turned a life of crime into a legitimate career over the last few years, as detailed in a March 15 Los Angeles Times profile — off the streets of our gang-ridden city.
Trutanich (the same guy trying to make protesting a misdemeanor) wants to create a special, untested “one-of-a-kind court injunction to bar Gheorghiu from profiting from art bearing his telltale 'tag,'” according to the Times. Just the kind of oppressive authority an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer would growl at —
As did ACLU staffer Peter Bibring, who's hot on the case.
Sheriff's deputies performed a dramatic raid of Gheorghiu's East L.A. home Tuesday, confiscating what they called “vandalism tools” that violated the artist's felony probation and allegedly pointed to revived criminal activity. (He was convicted in 2007 of tagging with the Metro Transit Assassins.) They then arrested Gheorghiu on Wednesday.
Here's what qualified as suspicious material:
• Wheatpaste posters
• Art prints
• A copy of Tuesday's Los Angeles Times
• A computer
Sketch. Gheorghiu's apparently quite proud of the Times piece, which does paint him as somewhat of a working-class hero. On his Facebook page, the tagger wrote: “The LA Times ran a story on me today…it's on the front page right below those nuclear disaster stories out of Japan…Pick yourself up a copy of the paper.”
An excerpt from the profile:
But this was a backdrop to his shadowy after-dark existence. Sometimes he traveled with tagging groups with brazen names: Racing Toward Hell, Metro Transit Assassins (or MTA). Mostly he spent his nights alone with a small backpack and a few cans of Coors and beef jerky, spraying poles, newspaper boxes and rusty utility boxes.
He hopped gates and hunted for forgotten access ladders. He dodged guard dogs and crunched across gravel roofs, always searching for that blank surface that, in his words, “screamed to be hit.”
There were moments of chest-pounding fear. But he also found peace, perched on some high outcropping, smoking a Parliament cigarette, gazing down at the city lights as treetops swayed in the breeze.
Gheorghiu is certainly not without fault. Removing graffiti like his costs the city thousands of dollars. And he was arrested again at the end of 2008 on suspicion of contributing to this L.A. River doozy (though charges were never filed):
MTA's grand finale along the concrete riverbed was the largest tag in Los Angeles history, at one half-mile wide and three stories high.
It's more the City Attorney's apparent obsession with delegitimizing — even outlawing — the only non-harmful forms of Gheorghiu's work, just because of his criminal past, that makes this case strange and stifling. That's like punishing a rockstar for making money off drug ballads, even though he's in rehab.
It's almost like Trutanich is bitter that graffiti is part of pop culture, and Banksy is a god, and hipsters will pay up to $2,500 for a Smear piece, probably 90 percent of which is accrued on street cred.
In yesterday's Times write-up of Gheorghiu's arrest, his ACLU attorney said: “It raises extreme 1st Amendment issues. The government shouldn't be in a position of saying you can't make art from certain materials.”
Here are some examples of his gallery work, which clearly employs “vandalism tools”:
According to City News Service, Gheorghiu will be in Los Angeles Municipal Court Division 69 at 1945 South Hill Street today at 8:30 a.m. His case number is VA099703.
We'll update with court proceedings as soon as they occur.