The response to L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich's proposal, reported in yesterday's L.A. Times, to criminalize the mere gathering of members of graffiti-tagging crews has not been pretty. Graffiti is one of those quality of life issues that people can point to when explaining why Los Angeles is firmly strapped into a hellbound handbasket. To most people of a certain age graffiti is ugly and they can remember a time when it wasn't around -- or at least, wasn't as omnipresent as it is today. But there are other, similar issues that would probably garner more attention if they were as visible as tags: homelessness, drug addiction and the unavailability of health care to large numbers of Americans.
However, we believe graffiti is unlike these cancers because we think it can be beaten with injunctions and ordinances. Trutanich, who, with California Attorney General Jerry Brown, recently won a preliminary court ruling to use a gang-injunction to clear a 1.4-square-mile zone around L.A.'s Fremont High School, will have his work cut out if he tries to sell his idea. Here's a short sample of responses.
"The idea is to stop tagging before it starts - kind of like the scenario portrayed in the futuristic thriller "Minority Report" in which cops arrest people for crimes they haven't committed yet . . .
But is pre-crime prosecution the way to do it in a democratic, rule-of-law, innocent-until-you-commit-the-crime society?" (L.A. Daily News editorial)
"Gangs are economic entities built around high volume sales of illicit
drugs. They defend their stake in this trade with violence. Taggers, on
the other hand, try to paint pretty things on walls. They might do so
illegally and their taste might differ from those in power, but that's
pretty much what they're about. (Matthew Fleischer, L.A. Flaneur)
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is much about even the run-of-the mill gang injunction that skates
perilously close to the edge of constitutionality. I suspect this
tagger injunction plan will topple easily right off the edge." (Celeste Fremon, Witness L.A.)