Why Oakland’s Proposed Graffiti Law Goes Too Far

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by Breannie Robinson

Banksy’s graffiti  — two English policemen kissing, an Israeli soldier getting frisked by a little girl — showing at Art Miami-Basel this week—sells for  as much as $266,000 and it’s political, provocative, and creative expression.

Graffiti, as Banksy and other artists would say, derives its MEANING from the street. Location is central. So would Oakland punish Banksy and the owner of the building on which it is displayed?

A new proposed city ordinance would punish both. It goes too far: it would impose fines on graffiti artists, on their parents if they’re minors, and also on property owners who don’t clean it up. The ordinance would basically make  tagging or graffiti a misdemeanor instead of an “infraction,” which would make it possible to be jailed for displaying graffiti. You must be kidding, jailed for having your property defaced?

Even if it’s an increasing problem in Oakland, (and Nancy Nadel led the move for more punishment, so West Oakland is targeted), why does it make sense for the building owner to be punished for what another person has done? Why should he or she be forced to clean it up or worse, be fined?

I think it’s laudable for Oakland officials to try to control the aesthetics of their city but it’s ridiculous to fine building owners who have no control over the tagging on their property. It might even discourage people from buying property in Oakland.

Graffiti has always been controversial: it can be viewed as “blight” or as “art.” The style of graffiti art can be seen as scruffy, ugly illegal drawings on buildings but in certain areas, graffiti is seen as portraits of real life which enhance a neighborhood’s beauty.

For example, in New York, there are large memoirs on the side of buildings and no one has fined the owners for the art on their walls. In fact, there is a PAID tour of Williamburg, Brooklyn which centers on graffiti.

Many famous graffiti artists who exhibit their art in galleries had their start on city walls: besides Banksy, Blek le Rat (who exhibited at the Tate Modern in London), Konstantin Dimopoulos (who painted Blue Trees in Seattle), Peter Ferrari PLF and Barry McGee, among others.

I wonder if this is another case in which Oakland is overreacting, because  we are in Oakland and “Gang Graffiti”(tagging to show that a block “belongs” or is “territory” for a specific gang)  is seen as threatening to law and order. Whether that is the case or not, punishing the owners of the building is taking things too far.

3 responses to “Why Oakland’s Proposed Graffiti Law Goes Too Far

  1. Hi Breannie,

    My name is Christine and I’m currently working on a radio piece in regards to this new law. I would love to chat with you on the issue if you’re free. I’ve left my contact info below to get in touch with me if you’re interested.

    Thank You!

  2. the difference between graffiti and art is simple: Permission. if a property owner gives permission to have his or her property painted then the result is art. if the property owner does not give permission it’s graffiti.

  3. “Why Oaklands Proposed Graffiti Law Goes Too Far | macksmack” in fact causes
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