Delayed Damages for Defacing Downtown

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Many of the gangs in America will mark their territory by marking buildings with graffiti, delineating their turf with what they consider to be art. The municipalities spent large amounts of taxpayer money painting over the art, and trying not to let neighborhoods look like Third World slums. Graffiti is nothing new. Archaeologists have found graffiti on the ruins of ancient Egyptian buildings along with graffiti on the walls in the city of Pompeii.


Despite the chiliastic artful tendencies of citizens, I seriously doubt anyone outside of the graffiti stained neighborhoods knows much of the symbolism that the illegal artists portray on walls. I know that MS-13 means a gang, and there are “gang awareness” websites where we can educate ourselves in the “secret” signs of these criminal organizations. At least the old Cosa Nostra had enough class to leave the cityscape alone; the new criminal organizations insist on tattooing themselves and painting everything that doesn’t move, and even things that move like railroad cars are not exempt from their artistic expressions.  Cities like Chicago banned spray paint in an attempt to curtail the street artists.  No, really officer, I was going to paint my patio furniture, honest I was.


Just to be cool, I will use the term “tag” and “tagging” for graffiti painting, since I should be making efforts to be cool, such as using the term “boosting” cars when it is, in fact, stealing them. Terms like “boosting” and “tagging” are so much cooler, and they minify the act, to make it sound less than a crime and more like just some sort of minor errant behavior, like not wearing your school tie on game day.


But the cities are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to repaint structures that have been subjected to graffiti. Enter the Information Age, software, and image identification. One “artist” (I disdain using that term) named Kyle thought that he was just distributing his artwork, to him, an almost victimless crime, really. The long arm of the law caught up with Kyle one fine day, and the magazine Slate, in their website of March 21, 2019 described what happened:


"The county was not charging Kyle with one count of vandalism. They were charging him with 218. He faced multiple years in prison.

Unbeknownst to Kyle, the sheriff had been keeping tabs on him and every other tagger in the city. It was 2010, and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department had recently rolled out a database called GraffitiTracker—software also used by police departments in Denver and Los Angeles County—and over the previous year, they had accumulated a massive set of images that included a couple hundred photos with his moniker. Painting over all Kyle’s handiwork, prosecutors claimed, had cost the county almost $100,000, and that sort of damage came with life-changing consequences. Ultimately, he made a plea deal: one year of incarceration, five years of probation, and more than $87,000 in restitution."


San Diego County started using GraffitiTracker in 2011, and restitution from graffiti jumped from $170,000 to almost $800,000 with close to $300,000 coming from juveniles. Interestingly, under California law, the maximum fine for robbery or rape is $10,000. One thing about the graffiti that I would like to know, is what is the statute of limitations on it; if they know I painted something several years ago, if they finally catch up with me, does that mean I am responsible for violations outside of the statute of limitations, just because the computer says it knows I did it?


An interesting point would be to get pulled over for speeding, and the officer downloads your GPS, notes every time you were speeding, and issues a citation (again, within the statute of limitations) for every time you exceeded the speed limit. At some point, will we just wait until there are enough violations in the computer to make the repeated offense a felony, and then prosecute? Does “fair and speedy” mean going to trial, or waiting until the offenses enter the felony range because of their number, claiming the defendant is a “repeat offender” and throw the computer at them? As in so many aspects of the Information Age, the technology has exceeded the law. While our legislators indulge in more and more investigations trying to remove people they don’t like, our legal system trails behind technology. If you don’t care now, you will when they present the technical evidence and the felonies with which you will be charged. Nothing on a computer ever goes away. Not that I am defending the graffiti artists, it is just that Big Brother takes another step in curtailing our freedom and violating our rights, and no one seeks to impose limitations.


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