Afa's crew broke up, he said, after several were arrested and others were intimidated by gang members who flashed guns and made threats.
Bernstein, the Fowks brothers and others said they also had heard that organized gangs were threatening taggers. The gang members didn't like the taggers bringing law enforcement heat into the neighborhoods, interfering with more serious criminal activity.
As if the gang members, police, teachers, probation officers and tough judges weren't enough, taggers also faced another foe--self-appointed graffiti busters. Known derisively as "heroes," these people cruise the area searching for taggers, taking pictures and noting license-plate numbers, and turning them in to authorities to collect rewards.
One such hero, a former Long Beach resident who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, has made about $20,000 in recent years by collecting reward money, mostly from Long Beach, which offers $1,000 per conviction. He is well-known to police for his frequent tips.
But there's a downside to this kind of work. After living 30 years in Long Beach, he moved his family to Compton two years ago, where fewer people knew his sideline. He also dons a bulletproof vest before cruising for taggers.
"Now they have tag-bangers, these kids who are in the initiation process and about to join a gang, and they're more violent," he said.
Afa was headed down this path, but was caught, convicted and received one of Axel's stiff sentences. Afa says he has sworn off tagging entirely.
Around his Central Long Beach neighborhood, he says he still sees a few younger wanna-be taggers, and they just make him shake his head and laugh.
"One day, those younger kids will find out the hard way, just like I did," Afa said. "And when they do, they'll stop tagging, too."