Sunday, March 27, 2005

Too Young To Buy Paint?

A couple of weeks ago I was tuned to live coverage of the Metro Council meeting to watch them handle the bill prohibiting front yard fences that I touched on before. After happily witnessing the deferment of the bill, I stayed planted on the couch just to watch the other business they had to conduct.

My ears perked up when they got to the debate on a bill sponsored by Mike Jameson of Downtown-and-East Nashville to prohibit stores from selling spray paint to minors. I had heard of the bill in passing on the evening news, and I wanted to listen to why someone would advance such a farfetched notion for controlling graffiti.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you will remember how much trouble the little angels in my neighborhood have been causing me personally and others more generally with gang-related graffiti. Despite my ever-stoked desire for Metro to be proactive in stopping the diminutive vandals, I remained unconvinced that stopping the sale of certain art supplies to those under 18 would work. It seemed to me to be well-intentioned, but desperate and misplaced; so, I didn't take the bill too seriously ...

...until I listened to all of the desperate and misplaced reasons that opponents gave for defeating the bill. In a paraphrased nutshell, they included:
  • "Who are we to call this graffiti vandalism? These kids might be budding artists who just need to be encouraged and trained to find different canvases on which to paint."
  • "It is impossible to legislate appropriate behavior for teens."
  • "We need to train and to teach children not to vandalize instead of making laws to restrict them."
  • "What will children in art classes do when they cannot go out and purchase supplies? This bill will punish unfairly teens in art classes."
  • "The bill will not stop graffiti because all the offending teenagers will need to do is ask an adult to purchase spray paint for them."
I could not believe how this bill stirred opponents to protest. I never took it seriously until I heard exactly how seriously they took it. I also was in disbelief that public servants would go to such unreasonable lengths to oppose a bill that probably only enjoyed marginal support by those outside affected communities.

Probably against their better intentions, the opponents of prohibiting sale to minors drove me firmly into the supporters' camp. The reasonableness of prohibiting the sale was made clear to me in the lack of reason of council members who rose against it. Here's why:
  • "Gangsta" graffiti obviously ain't art. I don't have an appreciation, let alone an understanding, of avant-garde art. I am hard pressed to comprehend the logic behind nailing a Barbie doll to a painted wooden shingle, framing it, and hanging it on a wall at Bongo Java with a sale price of hundreds of dollars. But I understand the difference between graffiti as an art form and graffiti as "gangsta" turf definition. No matter how naive one acts about the intentions of vandals, when one sees a group calling themselves "the Bloods" daily wearing red clothing, trying to intimidate neighbors, and using only red spray paint to claim their "hood" and to "R.I.P." their dead friends, one must conclude that what they are doing ain't art. Encouraging them to find a more suitable canvas might get one a bullet in the head.
  • It's ridiculous to claim that we cannot legislate appropriate behavior for teens. Nashville does it every Friday and Saturday that it enforces a curfew. Beyond that, the rule of law is legislating appropriate behavior for everyone. Do these council members really believe that we should stop writing laws?
  • If we cannot legislate appropriate behavior for teens, how could we possibly legislate training for them?
  • Kids in art classes who need spray paint will do what every other kid does when its time to buy supplies: haul their parents to the store with open billfolds to pay for the supplies.
  • Reasoning that adolescent vandals can still get spray paint by asking adults to buy it for them is like arguing that we should not have drinking age laws because kids can find an adult to purchase alcohol for them. I don't see very many council members advocating the repeal of prohibition of alcohol for minors.
In the end I did not hear one good reason for not prohibiting the sale of spray paint to minors. In fact, the reason that Councilman Jameson made for it sounded pretty good to me: it gives vendors who suspect foul play the power to tell teens that they are not authorized to sale spray paint to anyone under age. At least proponents of the bill are trying to lead on this issue; and that is the bill's most attractive feature to me, one of the many victims of vandalism. If opponents don't like it, then they need to pull their heads out of the sand on this issue and they need to find some means of leading us to a solution.

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