Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, August 8, 1997

Writing’s on the wall,
Rene Mansho

RENE Mansho, can we talk?

I know things get hectic over there at the City Council. And I know you are out in the community all the time doing good deeds, raising money for charity and stuff like that. I know it's easy to lose track of who the good guys and bad guys are.

Take this graffiti thing. Yes, graffiti's a blight and something should be done about it. But you forgot whose side your votes are buttered on. You represent the good guys, the property owners, the taxpayers, the voters and the guys without rap sheets. You are against the bad guys, the graffiti sprayers, the gangstas, the criminals and the punks.

So why in the world would you dredge up an old idea that would penalize the good guys for something the bad guys do?

I know, you've retracted your bill to make property owners pay to have graffiti removed from their property. But since this was the second time the nutty idea came up, we need to address why it was considered in the first place.

Back when your colleague, John Henry Felix, was kicking around the "penalize-the-victims" graffiti idea, I pointed out how stupid it was. Forcing people to pay to have graffiti removed from their property is like forcing a gunshot victim to pay to have his blood removed from the sidewalk. Or having someone struck by a hit-and-run driver pay for picking up all the broken glass left on the highway after his head hit the windshield.

Yes, none of us like to see blood on the sidewalk. It reminds us that society isn't perfect. But you don't SOLVE the problem by simply erasing evidence of the crime. And you certainly don't put the responsibility of getting rid of the evidence on the head of the victim.

Even considering forcing property owners to remove graffiti is an admission that authorities are more interested in covering up evidence than stopping the crime.

This mindset is rampant. The usual knee-jerk reaction to any serious problem is to take away the rights of the people who haven't done anything wrong in the first place.

For instance, guns are often used in crimes. The easy and misguided answer is to ban ALL guns. But this is stupid because most gun owners are law-abiding citizens. They are the good guys. They aren't the problem.

The problem is getting guns out of the hands of criminals. Simply because this is difficult doesn't mean you solve it by taking away everyone's rights.

If you must violate someone's rights, I say violate the rights of the criminals first.

If I own a piece of property that happens to to be on the edge of some perceived gang turf, I become the victim of graffiti. The problem is with the gangs and graffiti vandals, not with me.

Do you see, Rene? The property owner is the good guy, the graffiti sprayer is the bad guy.

Now, what can we do to stop the graffiti vandals? We could shoot them on sight. That would certainly stop the problem. We could give them free tickets to Disneyland. That would stop the problem until they returned home. And both ideas would cause a public outcry.

But that is roughly the parameters you have to work with, Rene. Somewhere between shooting graffiti vandals on sight and sending them to Disneyland is the answer to the graffiti problem. Your job is to find a solution that works. That's why you get the small bucks.

And when you come up with a solution, use this little test to tell you if you are on the right track: Does the solution help the good guys and punish the bad guys? It's that simple. If you had applied the test to the recent graffiti bill, it never would have come back to life. Let's just hope a wooden stake has finally been pounded through its heart.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

or send E-mail to charley@nomayo.com or

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