A recent confrontation between a surfer and a graffiti vigilante at Sunset Cliffs park ended peacefully but raised questions on how to approach the encroachment of vandalism, particularly within our beach communities.
An eyewitness reports that a young dark-haired individual who refers to himself as "Spoken One" (his name is Andrew) was whitewashing city dumpsters with spraypaint when a surfer (putting on his wetsuit in the parking lot) criticized Andrew’s apparent defacement of property.
The two argued briefly before bystanders intervened. However, it became clear that what may at first have seemed like an act of vandalism was actually, in a way, the opposite — an effort to eradicate a number of spraypainted tags that had already accumulated on the dumpsters.
The surfer criticized Andrew's efforts, apparently of the opinion the original series of tags looked better than the artless and smudgy white coat left covering the otherwise blue dumpsters. Andrew passionately insisted he'd been coming to the cliffs his entire life and would continue to "educate" any vandals defacing his neighborhood. Graffiti at Sunset Cliffs park is a relatively new problem, compared to other parts of the city.
So, is it effective to fight spraypaint with spraypaint? And in the eyes of the police department, is there any difference between a tagger spraying his signature, or moniker, on the side of a wall, and Andrew spraying over it?
A representative from the SDPD's Graffiti Strike Force, part of the department's Gangs Division, indicated there may be. Officer Sergio Zamora says taggers are mostly out to promote themselves to one another, and that once a location has been tagged once, more monikers are likely to appear. "The longer you leave the vandalism up, it's a calling to other taggers that it's a location to tag."
In other words, painting over the graffiti immediately will reduce the chances of more tags appearing. Unofficially, at least, the strike force would not be predisposed to consider a graffiti vigilante a vandal. Of course, Zamora adds, "Better to match the paint color."
While this may be an effective, if controversial, solution to protect specific locations, Zamora points out the city does promote a less confrontational means of combatting the proliferation of taggers themselves. The strike force maintains a Graffiti Tracker database to monitor various monikers in an effort trace them back to the vandal responsible.
The strike force works in conjunction with the local nonprofit Urban Corps, which operates a graffiti hotline. Graffiti reported to the hotline will be photographed and documented to the database, and subsequently painted over or otherwise removed, usually within 72 hours (other forms of graffiti include stickers (or "slap tags") and etchings.
As to what happens when the offenders are identified? Zamora says that in addition to fines and/or sentencing, vandal rehabilitation efforts include city beautification programs meant to channel their attempts at self-expression in more community friendly ways, including city-sanctioned murals, and the painting of metal SDG&E access boxes found on sidewalks all over town.
General tagging may be reported to the Urban Corps Graffiti Hotline: 800-829-6884. Graffiti may also be reported through their website.
Hate speech, including any threatening or offensive content should be reported to the local division of the San Diego Police Department, or Graffiti Strike Force: 619-531-2890