I was driving my teenage daughter to an appointment the other day when she commented about the amount of graffiti that was on structures in the metro area. She asked me why somebody would ever deface a property with graffiti. I thought about it for a moment and than stated that it was because graffiti artists are like dogs. They have to mark their territory. If you own a dog and have ever taken them for a walk you know what I’m talking about, but for those of you who don’t, I’ll explain for you.
Taking a dog for a walk can be good exercise for the pet and its owner. I can’t believe how excited a dog gets when it sees a leash in its masters hand. It is almost as if there is a smile the dog’s face as its tail wags uncontrollably. Once out of the house and onto the side walk the dog takes off at a fast pace nose to the ground sniffing, pulling against the leash trying to move its master along. This pace persists until the dog sniffs a blade of grass, bush, tree, post or fire hydrant that the dog finds interesting and than it stops, immediately lifts its leg and out comes a small spray of urine. The pattern is repeated over and over again throughout the walk as the dog marks its territory.
Why do the dogs mark their territory? To let other dogs know they were there. Why do graffiti artists mark their territory? To let other artist know they were there. While we can’t really control a dog’s urge to mark its territory I think we can and should control a graffiti artist’s urge to mark theirs. The cost of the sight pollution it creates and clean up required to remove it is too great for society to ignore. Current laws are little more than a slap on the wrist and unfortunately liberal lawmakers and judges stand in the way of stiffer penalties. In most US municipalities fines are limits to $50 and maybe sentencing the graffiti artist to a few days of cleaning up graffiti; however, in Singapore they routinely give out sentences of $1,500 in fines, 3 years in prison and 3 – 8 strokes of a cane. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visited Singapore you would have to agree that the stiff sentences are a deterrent as they have no visible signs of graffiti.
While I believe caning might be a little too severe a punishment for graffiti I don’t think it’s too much to expect that offenders pay high fines, reimbursement for the cost of removal and do prison time for repeat offences. After all, we do keep our dogs on a leash and in a kennel, why not treat our graffiti artists the same way metaphorically!