26 Apr 2012

Graffiti: Crime or Art?

Author: Ugomma Ihejirika | Filed under: BGSU, Enterprise Story, Local stories, Localizing story, Spring 2012, Student Contributor
By Ugomma Ihejirika

Graffiti has become a problem for the city of Bowling Green and business owners in the downtown area.

There has been an increase of graffiti in the last 10 years and members of the city are taking measures to curb the problem.

“The graffiti problem is cyclic,” said Lt. Bradley Biller of the Bowling Green Police Division, referring to the rise and fall of the graffiti problem.

Recently, graffiti appeared on the walls of Becketts, located at 146 N. Main St., Panera Bread, located at 163 S. Main St., 181 S. Main St., and also the Bowling Green City Park. The police cannot give a specific number of how many graffiti cases there have been, because it is categorized under criminal /malicious mischief and disorderly conduct.

Some of the graffiti can be seen on downtown private and city properties. According to a police report, graffiti was found at the Wood County Courthouse Complex, a garage in the 700 block of Sixth Street, and businesses in the 100, 200 and 300 blocks of South Main Street.

Graffitists are now spreading their “work” from the downtown area to the university’s campus. In the stairway of Offenhauer and the Olscamp building, graffiti is making an appearance and even trash bins outside campus buildings have become their canvas.

Graffiti has always been a problem in the community, said John Fawcett, municipal administrator. The criminals are getting more acrobatic because their works are showing up higher on buildings.

“You have to give them credit for figuring out a way to put graffiti high up on buildings, but it is still a crime,” Fawcett said.

The police office warned business owners to be watchful of their buildings and remove any graffiti as soon as it is noticed.

“Graffiti is kind of like weeds, you remove one and others pop up somewhere else,” Fawcett said.

The increase in graffiti devalues both public and private property and tarnishes the appearance of the community. This could prevent new business owners from coming into the community, said Barbara Ruland, director of Downtown Bowling Green.

Removing or covering of graffiti could cost a business from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the size of the graffiti. In a place

like downtown Bowling Green that is filled with historic buildings, it is harder and more expensive.

The city is making some effort to stop or reduce the spread of this crime, such as asking the public to report information and assigning police officers to do more walking in the downtown area in addition to driving their cruisers. The cameras downtown are used to monitor places that have been targets for graffiti such as North Street, South Street, East Wooster and North Wooster.

A group called the Downtown Bowling Green Association, made up of business and property owners in the downtown area, has put out posters to inform people of the crime and what can happen if they are caught. They also provide solvent to remove paint, to victims of the crime.

“It is one thing to express yourself and another to destroy private property,” Ruland said.

The police department encourages Bowling Green merchants to remove graffiti as soon as they notice that it has been tagged. This is because graffiti causes discontent in the community and people do not feel as safe.

“If you take care of the little problems, you are going to prevent the big things from popping up,” Biller said.

The police department puts a lot of research and energy towards investigation and identifying the criminals to get them charged. This involves interviews with suspects and members of the community and also surveillance with physical systems and physical surveillance, Biller said.

The graffitists are spreading their "work" to the campus. This graffiti can be found in the Olscamp stairway. Photo taken by Ugomma Ihejirika

There is also a reward of up to $1,000 if information received from an informant(s) leads to a prosecution and the informant can remain anonymous if he or she wants.

The history of graffiti can be traced back to gangs marking their territories against other gangs, said Eric Dubow, a psychology instructor at Bowling Green State University.

Fawcett and Biller said that the local graffiti do not seem to be gang related “It is just people expressing themselves, and this is the way they choose to do that.”

Various factors lead a person to commit a crime, Dubow said. These factors include the sort of family the child was raised into, whom the individual associates with and how the individual interacts with his or her surroundings. For example, how well does the individual bond with school? The level of his or her intelligence and impulsiveness, is he or she being accepted by others in the community?

“I think graffiti is an index to other anti-social behaviors,” Dubow said.

Graffiti is not considered a very serious crime, said Matthew VanEseltine, a criminology instructor at BGSU. It is somewhat synonymous to stealing $5 but there are different perspectives on the issue.

The Graffiti culture has really grown to be recognizable and respected and artists such as Banksy, have become names that are known all over the world. Some graffitists such as Banksy, Ray Noland and Alexander Brener use their work as a form of communication or a way to make a statement.

On the other hand, there are some graffiti artists who are also trying to make a statement or express themselves but going about it the wrong way. Such as the publicized Trayvon Martin’s case where a Florida neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, was charged with second-degree murder for shooting an unarmed teenager.

On the wall of Ohio State University’s black cultural center, the words “Long Live Zimmerman” were spray-painted.

“From the point of view of the offender, it is some sort of art that they take pride in,” VanEseltine said. “It is wrong to see it as an act of just boredom because there is a creative aspect to it, even though on the other hand it is vandalism.”

So far this year, just one suspect has been caught, Biller said. Brent E. Williams, a former student of BGSU was arrested in December 2011 and charged with Criminal Mischief with a bond of $5,000 for some graffiti writing about the Occupy BG.

The Occupy BG was a protest that was held last year against economic inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S.  According to court records, his next court date is scheduled on June 6, 2012 at 1:30 p.m.

Charges depend on the amount of damage and may include vandalism, criminal mischief or criminal damaging.

While the community may see graffiti as a crime, some students see it as a way to express themselves.

“I got into art through graffiti,” said Karlye Golub, an art major at BGSU. “We tagged trains in Cleveland with a group of my friends.”

Golub, who is now a glass art major but previously majored in painting, sees graffiti as an awesome way to express one’s self and has no problem with the graffiti and tagging going on.

“Not one process is going to work,” said Fawcett. “It is going to require all of us to work together. Every citizen needs to be part of the solution and it starts with everyone accepting the fact that graffiti is not art, it is a criminal action.”

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6 thoughts on “Graffiti: Crime or Art?

  1. Collin Sims Says:

    Very interesting, I wonder if there are any social factors that go into graffiti? In either case, this was a good story. I interviewed councilman Daniel Gordon for a new story going out today and hopefully his Falcon Care site can do something about this.

  2. Matthew Thacker Says:

    Good work UG. I think you picked an excellent topic and wrote about it wonderfully!

  3. Amanda Flowers Says:

    This is an awesome story and it’s interesting.

  4. ugonma Says:

    this story is beautiful and well written. i like the sufficient facts that back up the story.

  5. Karlye Golub Says:

    I just want to say that I personally have never tagged anything or any public property in Bowling Green. I do not condone people destroying public property. I do however support Art and Local Art. People express themselves in both beautiful and unique ways.

  6. kgolub Says:

    Can you correct the part of this story saying i tagged trains in cleveland with friends. That could be seen as criminal, especially how you portrayed it in this article