is often the first indication of a street gang's presence. An ever changing billboard of crime. A free ad announcing their arrival, challenge, or percieved ownership of an area. Free to the writer that is. Costly to the rest of us.
According to recent documentation of the County Gang Task Force and our own San Mateo Police Department Neighborhood Response Team there are 502 criminal street gang members and associates right here in town. Just San Mateo. Don't start thinking you are immune Foster City and Belmont, because judging from the various graffiti seen on my recent jaunts through all three towns, it does not stop at the San Mateo borders.
Graffiti and it's relationship to crime dates back long before spray paint and felt tip markers were a craft store away.
Traveling around Greece, some years back, my husband and I were lucky enough to be able to explore a recently finished archaeological project that included an agora dating back to 3000BC. In it's stone halls worn smooth from the sheep and other animals brought inside during attacks, we noticed graffiti. It too had been the work of criminal gang activity. The occupying German military had scratched names, dates, and other messages into these seemingly sacred halls. Messages of hate and threats meant to scare and mark their territory.
Gangs aren't the only ones getting in the game. "Tagging Crews" made up of young people who focus on graffiti (Drat, everyone under 50 is young to me so they may actually be roving groups of middle age delinquents). In their midst may be budding young artists. I really don't care when their canvas is the side of my store or truck. The public places tagged cost our city coffers real money to paint and on our private property cost the property owners real money to repair.
Although I haven't been treated to any local suburban city sightings, there is another form of graffiti known as Street Art. Drive through San Francisco or Oakland and colorful murals flash by in otherwise seemingly abandoned neighborhoods. Gaining popularity in pop culture, graffiti has influenced modern art, given way to national brand logos, skateboard designs, clothing lines, athletic shoes, and even popular cinema. Kind of a sell out for the counter culture message portrayed in most street art but every one needs to earn a living eventually. As art, graffiti is highly controversial. It is a public art without public or private permission. In a word to most, vandalism. However there is no denying that it has evolved into an actual art genre as evidenced by recent gallery and museum shows worldwide.
There are ways we can enhance our cities and prevent crimes like graffiti to help curb gang activity. First and foremost, get rid of it. When it is left for a time not only does it give the signal that it is OK to trash this neighborhood, but it invites the next gang member to respond. Zero tolerance.
If the graffiti is on a public building or sign call the graffiti hotline in San Mateo at 650.522.7300.
I have much more to say on the subject, but I have to go outside and paint the graffiti off the side of my store. Join me next week for the conclusion of Graffiti: A Gang Billboard.