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NYC Graffiti Crackdown:


This was an article I wrote in 1995 with Connie J. from "Refuse And Resist," the activist organization. It was written in response to three particularly bizarre and outrageous graffiti-related arrests. The first being Carl Weston, of Video Graf. The second was the very public arrest of COST. And the third was the disgusting arrest and harassment of PER. An incident noteworthy for, among other things, the fact that the city considered bringing legal action against the public school principal in the Bronx who allowed PER to do a mural on the school's handball court. Needless to say, PER is a talented artist, first and foremost. If he paints the handball court of your school, that's reason to celebrate, as far as I'm concerned. I don't recall reading about Michelangelo having to deal with this kind of bullshit...[This article first appeared in Ego Trip magazine, volume 2, number 2. Some of the information was updated.]


NYC's Graffiti Crackdown, 1995: Injustice For All


Writers beware! If you have a penchant for adjusting the landscape, the authorities are busy stacking the deck in their favor. Outrageous busts are abounding here in New York. If you play with spray they're out to make you pay, so watch your back. Here's some of the recent, more disturbing cases we've heard about.


When filmmaker Carl Weston was forced to take the handcuffed "perp walk" outside the 104th precinct in Queens last November, local news crews, alerted by the cops, were on hand in droves. Possibly they were not expecting the prisoner's defiant announcement: "Video Graf Productions! We promote graffiti!" A refreshing flip of the script for the evening news.


Carl was charged with "criminal mischief" (a felony) and "making graffiti" and "criminal possession of graffiti materials" (misdemeanors). Carl's actual "crime" was documenting writers on-site and in the act of doing graffiti. He is known for compiling his footage, and clips sent in by writers, onto video tapes under the name "Video Graf Productions." They are marketed through the mail and through stores across the country and internationally. They're selling well.


In the extensive TV coverage, several clueless news anchors mislabeled Carl's videos as "how to" instructional tapes for up and coming graffiti "vandals." As Carl explains "Basically, there's a whole subculture of graffiti magazines and now graffiti videos. In all honesty, they're not gonna stop it. It's clear they're trying to make me some kind of example. I have no graffiti arrests, I'm not even an active graffiti writer. They think if they can put some people on trial in a high media case, it might scare some writers.


"The DA wants to try me on the premise that I'm making money off of graffiti. They would love to be able to say I paid writers to do this, but one of the things I explained to the grand jury is that Video Graf is like the CNN of the graffiti world. I can get twenty-five calls within a three day period all day, all the time, from people wanting to be in Video Graf. I never actually have to place a call to people to be in Video Graf because there's like a four year waiting list."


Especially for someone like Carl with no criminal record, a fine seems like the type of penalty you'd expect. Not the case here. Carl has been offered the plea of six months prison time for the "crime" of videotaping people spray painting. He has refused the offer. It says a lot about the seriousness with which the authorities see this "graffiti problem" that they would attack a major popularizer of the movement in this way, ignoring their own laws, all evidence, and the standard treatment generally afforded cameramen documenting life.


Graffiti, it seems, is a special case. Over the past twenty-five years it has become the expression of choice for countless young artists and creative individuals in every possible locale from the Bronx to Scarsdale to Tokyo, and this itself is a big problem for the authorities. The writing on the wall is the ever-present reminder that they are not in complete control. So they've declared a zero-tolerance war on this art form.


A protracted government assault against the writers has been in effect since the '70's. By 1989, the Transit Authoritiy succeeded in wiping out the amazing and legendary graffiti trains in the city. At this point the Transit Authority pulls trains out of service, even during rush hour, if a single piece appears on a car.


Last October Mayor Giuliani beefed-up the war against graffiti. As part of his "quality of life" campaign, he increased his fleet of "vandal" cops. According to Carl Weston: "That's 25 cops paid $45,000 a year to chase after thirteen and fourteen-year-olds."


On top of this, the New York City Housing Authority alone claims to spend $13 million a year to remove graffiti from housing project buildings. The same buildings where elevators don't run and tenants wait years for a working refrigerator. Recently, the city got a $1.8 million grant from The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to pay for a computer system to record the graffiti done throughout the city. According to The New York Times (a paper you can count on to print any anti-graffiti slander, no matter how absurd) the computer project will enable the police to compile a "multi-borough gang database," because the cops contend that graffiti is "the way gangs communicate with each other."


To support this fallacy, The Times featured a photo of a piece done by Harlem artist "Verse," with a caption interpreting a character next to his name as "giving the hand-signal of his gang, The Netas." It was interesting and ironic to learn the facts. After I read the Times article, I contacted Verse and learned that he had been commissioned by McDonalds to paint the mural, and was unfamiliar with The Netas.


Since the graffiti movement has gone national, then international, the various municipalities bent on thwarting the "graffiti threat" have begun working together. Police in charge of local "vandal squads" in different cities are now connecting with each other more and more to share information on the latest techniques for battling graffiti. Infiltration into the graff community is a common tactic. "Ghost writers" is the term used to describe a cop who poses as a graffitist. Informants, of course, are often used. Busted writers will all too often "drop a dime" in exchange for prosecutorial leniency. Often "bad blood" and rivalries between writers will lead to one ratting-out another.


The graffiti movement has always functioned on a number of different levels. The bombers are intent on blanketing the landscape with tags and throw-ups. Other writer gravitate towards more elaborate pieces although many attempt to do both. Since the beginning, graffiti has been acknowledged as an art movement, and many artists' lives revolve around it. Many writers make trips to other cities to meet other artists and collaborate with them. The days of meeting your boys up at the Grand Concourse is over. Now you might be meeting your boys in Holland or Germany.


The attacks on the graffiti "muralists" is probably the most troubling and disturbing new twist to an already frightening situation. These modern-day Picassos specialize in multi-artist, and sometimes multi-day, productions. Elaborate masterpieces replete with scenes, figures and symbolism. Huge sprawling paint jobs that can run full city blocks. The neighborhoods where they're most common are neighborhoods where they're most welcome. Take, for example, the South Bronx. The local communities embrace and protect many of the "graffiti murals" painted there. Many of the works inspire joy and unity-and represent how a simple gesture with the right energy is capable of manifesting a measurable positive transformation. It is this ability for communities of color to empower themselves through public art, that poses a threat to the racist regime of the Giuliani administration. The right for a community to paint their own neighborhood falls outside this mayor's fascist rules of "appropriate behavior."


In early June, two of Germany's best known urban painters, Daim and Hesh came to New York. They teamed-up with Bronx legend Per, and began a beautiful mural on a formerly desecrated handball court in the playground area of a public school in the South Bronx. Before they began work they contacted the principal of the school, who granted them permission. As they got underway, in broad daylight, the local vandal squad police watched and photographed as their work progressed. The cops ultimately confronted them, with network news crews in tow, and placed all three under arrest. The vandal squad, and an equally reprehensible court, threw the book at all three. The German artists had their passports confiscated, and the school principal was dressed down by the authorities who claimed he had no jurisdiction to permit this type of "vandalism" on city-owned property.


The arrest and harassment of Per takes on a particularly sinister form. His murals in the Bronx are well-loved and appreciated there. The cops demanded that Per produce written authorization, retro-actively, from the owners of the buildings where his art appeared. "Permission walls," graffiti writers are aware, are often painted through informal verbal agreements. Asking Per to go back through years of work and round up individuals to solicit written permission from them was asking the impossible. Unable to comply, Per was given a sentence of community service. Demanding this kind of red tape from street artists is a protracted effort to curb the artistic expression of some of N.Y.'s most serious artists. The cops have also served a clear message to those who promote this type of art-like the high school principal-that their endorsements of it will not be tolerated.


It's not just the aerosol wizards that are currently under attack. It's probable that there's not a block in the entire city that hasn't at some point been graced by the quirky crew of two, Cost and Revs. These two "poster boys" are infamous for their thousands of wheat-pasted posters that have become part of the fabric of the city. Their trademark placards featuring their names and various amusing and thought-provoking phrases have raised the curiosity of passers-by and the ire of local authorities.


The antics of Revs and Cost have taken every aspect of street art to the limit. These two nocturnal laborers are known for their paintings on tarps bolted onto downtown walls using concrete as adhesive. Needless to say, they could be painted over (If you get up twenty-five feet) but they can never be removed. This approach shows a sincere commitment.


The dynamic duo is also responsible for creating many anti police-tyranny murals and one particularly wonderful portrait of Giuliani on Houston Street featuring the mayor with nails pounded into his skull. Revs and Cost like to work big, too. It's not uncommon to gaze upwards and see their names rendered with white paint and rollers affixed to forty-foot extension rods. These huge hieroglyphs can be seen running the length of an entire city block, six stories above street level. Executing these collosal logos is no simple task.


In light of the volume of their work, it's not that surprising that Cost and Revs have made some enemies. The question this raises is what lengths should law enforcement go to, at tax-payers' expense, to curb the actions of Cost and Revs? (Particularly in view of the proliferation of "real crime" in the city.) R & C have become a source of disdain for property owners, community boards, citizen patrols and neighborhood beautification teams. On the other hand, they're work has been intentionally used in films, videos, photo shoots and paintings. Intentionally, I believe, because their work represents a specific time and a specific place. And a much-needed, much-welcomed, in-your-face declaration "I AM ALIVE!!!"


According to an article that appeared in New York Newsday, the vandal squad declared them their most wanted. In a scenario that's too ridiculous to believe, the vandal squad finally did bag Cost. Here's how your tax dollars are being spent: On a tip from an informer, The police discovered where Cost lived, and staked-out his home in Rego Park, Queens. They followed him for a number of days, and eventually arrested him in a commuter train station on December 23rd, 1994. He was picked-up because the cops tailing him claimed they saw him put a paper sticker, measuring two by three inches, on a newspaper vending machine.


What would you figure Cost's penalty might be? Make sure you're sitting down for this. Cost was sentenced to 200 days community service, or 1600 hours. Much of his work detail so far has entailed cleaning graffiti-in many cases his own. He was also sentenced to three years of supervised probation, fined $2180, and forced to undergo psychological counselling. Hopefully Cost can be cured, and finally taught to see the error of his ways. So the message wasn't lost, the sentencing judge, Joel Blumenfeld, stated "This is a serious sentence so that you can be an example to anyone who thinks they can get away with this."


Despite these draconian eradication campaigns, the word on the streets is that there are more writers today than ever before, and they're still getting up whenever, wherever they can. Protect yourself. You can't be too careful.


In October, 1983, Michael Stewart stood in the L train station one evening, waiting for the train to take him home. He never made it. A cop saw him doodling on a poster in the station. He was subsequently beaten to death by police. The medical examiner created a bogus autopsy report, and no charges were ever brought against any of the cops involved.

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theres a system out here not just the police that wants control of everything and when it comes to drugs ang graff they got no control and make no loot so fuck those greedy mutha fuckas bomb everythin and sell weed till your so high you cant remember your own name

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Fucking faggots....Fuck guliani and fuck his vandal squads...pay for your fuckin electricity and water, then worry about your fucking graffiti covered walls...people in politics are so mother fuckin stupid, they all need to be lined up in a feild and gunned down by m-60s.

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I am not American and therefore thuis is just an outsiders view of the situation. I have read various things about stunts cops , vandal sqauds and other agencies pull on writers. Your country prides its self on being the land of the free but I think with such a ridiculous amount of under funding for education, health care and what i've heard the prevention of "real" crime its not really is it. IF you don't fit into the "IDEAL" of what an american citizen should be then you are classed as a threat and are no longer "free".

That shit about a writer being beaten to death and then the cops faking it

doesn't surprise me to be honest. The cops have to deal with a lot more these days in the US and the UK but times when cops are just kicking the shit out of suspects are rising . I know someone who got punched by a police officer then he got arrested for attempted assault on a plice officer. Madness ....fuck it lets start etching all pig property.


If my words have pissed anyone off then I aploogize...its just what I think.

Props to all you freight rockers and the crazy haven painters......

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Guest Asid



I broke a cops jaw once when I was running away, he grapped my shoulders from the back and I spun around and cracked him with an elbow...But no one will belleive this eheh, oh well...:confused:

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Originally posted by Jack Meoff

this country is still very far from being free. (duh).


i hate when people piss and moan about laws and not being free. look at what we have.. we've got alot more than most countries.if there was an absence of law...you could be beat, raped, and killed and nobody would give a fuck but your mother. what if you owned a shop and some kids vandalized it? you'd be pissed too if you didn't understand it. im not baggin on graffiti or hittin hot spots, i love it just as much as anyone else...all im sayin is it is ILLEGAL. you're 'vandalizing' other peoples property. to some people, the sound of a storm is beautiful, to others its frightening...some people think graffiti is a beautiful thing...others think its the decaying of there city. before i get off subject, cops are normal people just doin there jobs...some are on power trips but i also know alot of people that are really arrogant (hense alot of writers). realize that what you are doing is illegal, and you're going to pay the price if you don't play your cards right...

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dai has a good point, and its one that a lot of people on here refuse to accept.

graffiti IS a crime. if you cant handle it, you might want to consider quitting...i dont agree in all the money being spent to try to prevent graffiti when there are a lot of other serious problems abounding, but you have to remember you are breaking the law when you paint. the per daim and hesh incident, thats fucked.....that was a bunch of fucking bullshit. but its part of the game. if you made graffiti more acceptable, more people would do it, and the level of quality would go even further down the drain.

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