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Graffiti gang crackdown

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Publication date: 06/10/2003


Graffiti gang crackdown


Of The Examiner Staff


For more than four years, a San Francisco criminal street gang -- made up of mostly middle-class professionals -- wreaked havoc locally and on other cities across the country and continental Europe, police say.


Its weapons were not AK-47s or sawed-off shotguns, but aerosol spray cans and an ego to assert.


Public housing on Potrero Hill, commercial buildings south of Market, community groups, BART and Muni vehicles, and landmark city buildings have all been struck with the ignominy and expense of being a target of Kill Until Killed (KUK), which the District Attorney's Office alleges is a highly organized graffiti gang operating here and in Oregon, New York and Europe.


And now, the DA's office says, the group will suffer for its "art."


In a first-of-its kind prosecution in San Francisco, eight people have been indicted by a grand jury on 24 felony charges of graffiti and conspiracy to commit graffiti as a gang.


Graffitists might say that it's a primal impulse to express themselves that draws them to view the commercial building as canvas, but to assistant district attorney Harry Dorfman their urban expressionism is merely narcissism writ large on the city streetscape.


He estimates that KUK has done upwards of $20,000 in property damage.


When the damage of one particular hit exceeds $400, it stops being a misdemeanor and becomes a felony.


"I have a lot of evidence," Dorfman said. "They just kept doing it and doing it and doing it."


Dorfman has what he claims are braggarts' snapshots of spray-paint adventures and tools of the trade found in raids on the defendants' homes.


But he says that the most incriminating piece of evidence of all is the brazen imprimatur of the defendants' individual tags, or graffiti identifiers, on walls right next to what he says is the group's collective identifier, the sign KUK.


The DA alleges that, between 1998 and 1999, the group sprayed graffiti on the outside of the Geary Theater, a mural project in the Castro District, the Turner Terrace public-housing development, and a series of private companies in the South of Market area.


Dorfman said the graffiti ranged from simple scrawls to all-out annihilations of the sides of buildings and murals up to 100 feet wide.


American Conservatory Theater spokesman Jon Wolanske, whose company presents its plays in the Geary Theater, said its high-profile Geary Street location made it an obvious canvas for graffitists.


"It's unfortunate that the artists had to draw attention to themselves, to create through the destruction of our property," he said.


"ACT supports freedom of expression and artwork that inspires, uplifts, and unifies," he said. "What those individuals did was vandalism, a willful destruction of property that is meant to be enjoyed freely by our patrons and by the city at large, and ACT certainly does not condone their actions nor sympathize with their cause."


San Francisco Police Department graffiti-abatement officer Chris Putz said the offenders were mainly professionals in their late 20s who were previous offenders and needed to be taught a lesson.


If convicted, they could face stints in state prison.


"They were pretty much the No. 1 tagging crew, and every day some members of the crew would tag up the Tenderloin, the Mission, Oakland, or other areas," Putz said. "They are a little bit old to be doing this ... and we just decided to take a zero-tolerance stance."


Since the indictments, the vandalism has significantly lowered," Putz said. "It's set the tone."


Graffiti in San Francisco is a growing problem, causing around $2 million in damage to The City every year.


Department of Public Works spokesman Alex Mamak says The City supports the Police Department's efforts to track people who vandalize property with graffiti.


The City has established a task force to deal with the problem and is shifting some of the onus back to property owners to clean up the mess.


Victims of graffiti on private property will be offered paint that they have to apply themselves.


City facilities such as streetlights and trash cans will soon be painted a uniform dark green to make the job of painting over graffiti easier, as The City can cover it all up with one type of paint, Mamak said.


In the Richmond District, locals are working with the Sheriff's Department to inform on known graffitists, and in Bernal Heights, SoMa, and Chinatown, The City is joining with businesses to prevent property damage caused by acid etching, a process by which graffitists use a substance that cuts through glass.


Businesses are sealing glass with a protective sheet coating that prevents the acid etch from penetrating through to the glass and can be peeled off after the graffitist strikes, Mamak said.




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