Graffiti, vandalism catch students’ eyes

cubist bull

Stencil graffiti of a cubist bull is present near the outdoor staircase of building 26. Jose De Castro / MOUNTAINEER

When most people think of graffiti, their minds turn to gangs and tagging.  However, this is is only a fraction of what has been popping up along the halls on campus. During the fall 2011 semester, someone adorned one wall on the third floor of a stairwell in building 26D with a color image of a penguin accompanied by the words, “The irony is it was a sunny day.” A stencil image of a cubist bull can be found on the same building’s outdoor staircase; adjacent to it, there is a depiction of a sun-drenched landscape. On the ground floor of 26D, an abstractly designed stencil of a ram is displayed near the bottom of a pillar. A third instance of this type of graffiti depicts black-and-white likenesses of walking men is present in several spots around campus.  Throughout the building, artists have also imprinted images of birds, human faces, and people holding hands. Other instances of vandalism on Mt. SAC include stickers and other stationery found on campus property. One person attached a paper drawing of a rapper accompanied by a dollar sign to a stone column near the library. People also use stickers and other materials on school property to display promotions for an event, website or business. Sergeant Anthony Kelly of the Mt. SAC public safety department has had experience with graffiti. He helps monitor incidents on campus and works with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to determine if any gang-affiliated graffiti can be linked to related off-campus occurrences. “There has been a history with graffiti on campus,” he said. “We did have an incident [last year] where gang graffiti was on campus and continued off campus, ultimately leading to an arrest.” Kelly added that Mt. SAC students have the option to report their findings to an organization called WeTip; the school joined the program last year. WeTip allows citizens to anonymously report crime and relays that information to law enforcement. “Unfortunately, if you don’t catch someone in the act, it’s a reactive process,” he said. “If you catch them in the act, it’s a whole lot easier to close that case.” In addition to encouraging people on campus to report graffiti and other crimes, public safety also makes it a priority to work with the facilities department and custodial staff to clean up and to carry out extra support patrols, Kelly said.  The department keeps a database of graffiti and shares its content with the Sheriff’s Department to see if incidents off campus match with those on Mt. SAC. “If you keep a database of graffiti, taking pictures, and maintaining a database,” Kelly said, “you can be ready when the person behind it returns.” Kelly said that graffiti with artistic intentions is not as likely to cause more crime as opposed to gang-related vandalism, such as those that display gang names or members’ nicknames.  “The link is less likely if the graffiti is artistic, but if it is a gang moniker, it sends a clear message that the gang is here,” he said. However, he said that the public safety department and other law enforcement should and do treat all graffiti as the same crime.  “Unfortunately, the key word is graffiti,” he said.  “The definition of graffiti is that it is unwanted and that it is defacement of property.” Depending on the cost of the cleanup and whether or not the defacement of property is found to be permanent and irreversible, graffiti may ultimately lead to a misdemeanor charge punishable by fines or up to one year in prison; repeated or extreme incidents may lead to felony charges. Students have mixed opinions of the recent graffiti, but would like to see alternative solutions to give artists a legal outlet for this type of expression. Ryan Mayekawa, 18, undecided, said that graffiti that is artistically inclined or does not have a clear link to gang affiliations should still be illegal and police should approach it with the same policy. “I think graffiti’s not good in general, but I think there should be designated places where people are able to express themselves in public,” he said. For the person or group behind the recent instances of vandalism on campus, Mayekawa suggested they focus on legal art.  “I wouldn’t advise him to keep tagging in public places,” he said. Instead, they should work on their own private spaces or lobby to bring about publicly available and accessible canvases for legal artistic expression. Brandon Jones, 23, business major, said artistic graffiti is not necessarily bad, but should still be treated as illegal, especially in the event that it defaces privately owned property. “On private property, definitely not,” he said. “You’re infringing on somebody’s establishment.” Jones was positive about the idea of creating public walls where people would be able to legally apply graffiti and other forms of art. “That’d be cool,” he said. Matthew Medina News Editor