Graffiti Ban Targets Symptom, Not Disease

By Jason Menard

Verily, I say to thee that London truly is a safer place today! Yes, a committee has put forth a recommendation before our esteemed council to wrest from the hands of our city’s youth the very implement they wield to pierce into our city’s soul.

A marker.

Oh, but not just any marker. A marker specifically targeted by these hooligans to deface our fair streets and mark their territory. In celebration I felt like running to where my four-year-old daughter was colouring, seizing her Crayola’s, and waving them in front of her, shouting “Verily, thine fiendish future ways have been thwarted, daughter of mine.”

Yes, we have eradicated the opportunity for these youths to purchase their weapon of choice! And, although they’re smart enough to do intricate work in public places without getting caught by the police, we can only hope that they’re not smart enough to hop in a car and drive to a neighbouring community that’s more writing implement friendly.

Honestly, does this seem a little short-sighted to anyone else? Do we honestly think that preventing under-18s from buying markers will stop the tagging and other acts of graffiti that pop up in our city? Do we honestly believe that only under-18s are the ones perpetrating this activity?

And are we so stuck in this white-bread mentality that we can’t see the beauty of the work that some graffiti artists produce?

Of course, it may all come for naught. In true Keystone Kapers fashion, the council neglected that discriminating based upon age may not be the most legally sound foundation for a by-law. But beyond that, this is a clear case of sweeping the issue under the carpet by dealing with the symptom not the disease.

As with most youth activities, including the very gang affiliation that some councilors attribute, graffiti and tagging are simply a crime of opportunity – or, more specifically, lack of opportunities. Many kids get involved in tagging for the simple fact that they’re bored. Yes peer pressure can be a factor, but in large part these are kids who have fallen through the cracks.

Listen, I’m not advocating a bleeding-heart approach where these kids are considered the victims, not the victimizers. But what I know is that an approach that’s designed to restrict access to the tools of the trade is only going to embolden these perpetrators to be more outrageous and outlandish in displaying their craft. After all, we know what happens when you tell a teenager not to do something – you’ve suddenly made the act far more appealing than ever before. Instead of reducing the number of tags on public property, a ban may in fact increase the frequency and prevalence of this type of graffiti.

The first step in the process has to be education. Start the kids young in elementary school by instilling a sense of what’s right and wrong. There are anti-graffiti colouring books and other materials that other communities have used, and we should be on the bandwagon. Secondly, we need to continue to hammer home this message throughout their schooling. As kids enter high schools, we need to show them the economic effects of tagging and – more specifically – how it affects their wallet. If we can draw the correlation between increased clean-up costs that get rolled back into increased product and service prices, not to mention taxes, maybe that will help.

We also have to have stricter punishments in place for those that are caught. A hefty fine or stint in jail may serve as an effective deterrent for some of the more thrill-seeking members of this community.

As well, these youth need to be engaged in finding the solution. Obviously the programs and services that are already in place aren’t meeting their needs, so why not involve them in the process of defining and implementing social programs that work? If we accept that graffiti can be a crime of boredom, where is the harm in engaging these youth in developing solutions that are stimulating and effective? The top-down approach, despite all its good intentions, is obviously not working.

And the final piece is that there needs to be recognition that not all graffiti is bad. By setting up graffiti walls in various parks and areas of the city, we can encourage these artists to showcase their wares in a public and accepted forum. Some graffiti art is an expression of social conscience and that’s something we should be encouraging more of in our community’s youth.

In the end, London may soon be the first city to ban the sale of these implements to minors, but that’s certainly not a distinction of which I’m going to be proud. I’d much live in a city that’s know for putting a premium on the participation of its youth in more constructive activities than for residing in one that simply banishes them to the corner.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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