Art is not a Crime

by Eduardo Soriano Castillo

October 19, 2012

The criminalization of graffiti is not a new phenomenon.

As a former writer who has been on the receiving end of brutalities from both Philadelphia and Los Angeles police departments finest, I’m more than comfortable stating that the governments repression of public art has been escalating and is currently at its worst.

Recent victories in LA for what some folks might consider “fine art” cannot mislead us into thinking that the government, institutions of higher education, the museums, art collectors or the politicians get to dictate what is art and what is not.

For years, ambitious, power-hungry politicians from across the political spectrum have been bargaining away our public services like funding for public schools’ arts and music programs, libraries, and public health clinics in favor of serving their corporate alliances. Meanwhile, they have intensified their focus on street level crime to divert attention from the white-collar crooks who are laughing their asses off on the way to the bank.

Attacks are coming in on all fronts:

Government is not just hitting writers on an individual basis anymore. Besides severely stiffening the legal penalties for tagging, government has backed an all out media and legal assault against writers that has been in progress for years. From the Venice Beach graffiti walls formerly know as the Venice Beach Pavilion to the moratorium on Graffiti in LA to Boston MA where the twin brothers from Brazil know as Os Gemeos recent solo show sparked mainstream controversy around their hooded yellow-skinned characters that had the locals screaming everything from “gay ninja” to “insurgent or terrorist.” It’s clear that from coast to coast SHIT IS ON!

“Hero” is a term used by writers for any motherfucker without a badge that tries to stop them from getting up or achieving their goal. Heroes today have a whole new technological arsenal at their disposal, a way to snitch without having to step up. Armed with smart phones, citizens can snap up photos of graffiti and post them to websites that report directly to the city clean up crews. Other web-based services help the police tally up a writer’s tags/hits, catalogue them, identify whether they are gang or graff crew related, and put a price on the writer’s head.

If you look around our communities it’s pretty obvious that graffiti is the last of our immediate issues. Look around and you’ll see folks mad struggling to find work and feed their loved ones. Graffiti is being used by the political elite to distract all of us from the real issues at hand: corporate gangsterism, low wages, lack of health care, racism, sexism and the ongoing imperial wars being waged abroad and in our low income communities. It is also an excuse to waste even more of our limited shared resources on policing and surveillance.

It’s incredibly disheartening for me personally to see a society turn against those who seek to beautify our public spaces with displays of technique and discipline while ignoring the advertising from predatory pay day loaners, insurance companies, fast food giants, and big cosmetic companies. This corporate blight is slowly eroding the very fabric of what makes us human, but goes almost completely unchallenged by the police and politicians.

Maybe someday we’ll all step up and challenge those that oppress us directly, but until then, power to the rebels, power to the midnight aerosol ninjas, the taggers, the artists, and the beautifiers of our hurting communities.

Let them try and stop ALL of us.







Η τέχνη δεν είναι ένα έγκλημα


ART는 범죄가 아니 잖아요

ART nie jest przestępstwem

This article originally appeared on the author’s Tumblr page here.

Be sure to hit up (and like) the Oakland Street Art Page on Facebook for daily updates of East Bay graffiti, stickers, stencils, wheatpastes and all that good shit.