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Some Modest Ideas for Taggers

July 19, 1993

You've no doubt seen news accounts in which apprehended tagging vandals are shown covering up graffiti with large, new paintbrushes or rollers. Too easy. Give them the worst and the smallest brushes available, the kind you come across in your garage with bristles as hard as the handles. Supervising authorities could use a stopwatch. The slower the taggers are, the more they ought to be assigned to clean.

Perhaps a "Tagging Victim of the Day" program could be implemented. Aggrieved shopkeepers and property owners could be given their own spray paint and would be allowed to follow the graffiti-coverup crews. The victims could then mar the fresh paint job and watch gleefully as authorities ordered the taggers to cover it up again.

Taggers should not always be assigned to paint over someone else's graffiti. There is too much potential enjoyment in deep-sixing some rival's work. They ought to be made to cover their own mess. If it is an ego boost to "get up on big stuff," imagine the ego deflation in being seen by your buddies covering up your own tag under the reproachful gaze of authorities.

Those taggers who have true artistic talent could be steered toward businesses or officials in Los Angeles and Orange counties that have offered walls or mural space. If the taggers refuse the offer, sign them up for the cleanup crews.

The outrage spawned by this burgeoning problem is palpable. A clear example was Wednesday's decision by the Laguna Beach school board to withhold the grades, diplomas and transcripts of known taggers until their parents cough up the cost of repairing the damage. But the best responses are those in which community members become involved.

The Mothers of East Los Angeles Santa Isabel Chapter, for example, has targeted the Boyle Heights community for cleanup, raising money and buying supplies for those painting over graffiti. The nonprofit group El Centro de Amistad, in the western San Fernando Valley, sends out crews of youngsters to cover up new graffiti.

One of the best examples of citizen initiative is the Community Tagger Task Force, composed of about 300 volunteers in the San Fernando Valley who use privately raised funds to photograph repeat taggers and pass that information on to police. That's a good way for residents to assist an understaffed police force in reining in the graffiti vandals.

Tagging most assuredly presents an instance where the punishment must suit the crime. Forcing arrested graffiti vandals to paint over the handiwork of their peers is the best idea thus far. But there is so much more that can be done to take the joy out of defacing public and private property. And anything that robs vandals of their satisfaction in defacing the city that we all must share is very much worth trying.

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