East New York

When is art vandalism? When is vandalism art?

March 15, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The colors enamor some as they take the subway to and from work. For others it is an eyesore that defaces building and brings down property value. It is graffiti.  

Those who spray-paint images and words on walls, buildings, and subways are often called “graffiti artists.” But is it art? Or is it an act of vandalism?

For Fitzgerald McBride, 44, it is an art form that takes him to dangerous locations like the elevated platform of the New Lots Avenue L-train station.  But for the police, it is a crime.  McBride was charged 68 times for tagging locations throughout Brooklyn.

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But should graffiti be a criminal offense? The question often revolves around the issue of private versus public space.  With a few exceptions, a private owner may impose a form of art on a building he/she owns without interference form the government.

However, public and private spaces are often blurred. For example, if a graffiti artist is granted permission to tag a private wall with public exposure, is this a permissible form of art or vandalism?

What if the graffiti artist is not granted permission by the property owner but there is no objection to the graffiti on the building? Is this a permissible display of art or should the artist be arrested for defacement?

While it is true that art is subjective, it is clear that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office takes the offense of graffiti seriously. In 2011, the DA’s office had a total of 407 graffiti cases. That number increased to 516 in 2012.

The areas in Brooklyn with the highest amount of graffiti-related offenses are Ocean Point, Williamsburg, Bushwick, Kensington and Midwood. The neighborhoods of Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Brownsville, Crown Heights and Park Slope reportedly have the least amount of graffiti offenses, according to the DA’s office.

McBride, arrested in Brownsville, was arraigned last week. It is not yet certain if McBride has retained counsel or how the DA’s office plans on proceeding with the charges against him.

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