Sunday, April 01, 2007

Fixing Vandalism Eventually Becomes the Victim's Responsibility

In its lede, the Tennessean tries to add a pinch of scandal to the prospect of an ordinance that would fine property owners hit with graffiti a $50 fine and $50 a day after that until graffiti is removed if those owners did not remove the graffiti within 10 days.

As a victim of graffiti, I don't need the Tennessean posturing like some kind of advocate on my behalf and making it seem like cleaning graffiti off my property was onerous or too heavy a burden. As someone who started removing graffiti an hour after my property was tagged and who had it completely cleaned off in a week, I share little of the Tennessean's seeming pity for owners who leave vandalism up on their property for over 10 days.

Anyone who has been affected by tagging appreciates the idea of catching the perpetrators and forcing them to remove their handiwork or compelling them to pay for clean-up and fines. But most of those victims understand that catching those vandals is practically impossible. What exactly are the police supposed to investigate? It's not like evidence can be collected that would lead to an arrest. So there is no reason to wait for justice to take its course before the graffiti is removed. And waiting only increases the possibility of re-tagging and other forms of vandalism.

At some point, owners who leave graffiti up become themselves guilty of defacing the neighborhood. There is no good reason for not removing graffiti as soon as possible from one's own property. Salemtown has absentee property owners willing to leave graffiti up for months. The apartment complex that last January was tagged by gang graffiti in the picture to the right still has the same graffiti up in April. How long should Iunian and Doina Gherghescu of Old Hickory, TN be allowed to keep graffiti on their property? And how many other acts of vandalism perpetrated in the last three months might have been influenced by the ugly conditions of the Gherghescu property?

Maybe if the Gherghescus had been fined $50 a day (they would be up to around $3,000 by now), they might have taken more initiative to maintain the quality of their property instead of contributing to decay and delinquency. That might have been the ticket. But they were not so fined and they have chosen not to remove the graffiti that they now own. Hitting them daily in the pocket book could be just the motivation they need to clean up their unsightly mess.

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