Monday, February 8, 1999

Stiffer penalties urged
against graffiti vandals

A 10-block area mauka of the convention
center reportedly has 240 cases

By Rod Ohira


A sophisticated form of graffiti called "tagging" is spreading at an alarming rate and costing businesses and taxpayers thousands of dollars a week in cleanup costs, said Councilman Andy Mirikitani.

"The difference between vandalism and art is permission," said Mirikitani, who met with representatives from the police, court system and business community to address the issue.

"Seven billion dollars a year is being spent across the United States to remove graffiti, and if we don't take a stand now, we're going to have the same problems as New York and other cities."

Tagging involves a competition between painters, who refer to themselves as artists, said police Detective Glen Muramoto.

"The higher up you go, the more respect you get from peers," he said. "It's part of the hip-hop culture."

Hip-hop refers to the culture of rap music.

The typical "How did they do that?" reaction to tagging plays to the "You don't see us but we are here" hip-hop theme.

Noting a shift in tagging activity from Pearl City and Aiea to the urban center of Ala Moana, McCully and Moiliili, Mirikitani said the problem is out of control.

In a 10-block area heading mauka from the Hawai'i Convention Center, he said his staff counted 240 cases of graffiti vandalism.

"It's an insult to the community," Mirikitani said. "Businesses and taxpayers are spending over $1,000 a week to remove graffiti.

"We need a zero-tolerance approach, and without tougher sentences, starting with first-time offenders, there's no incentive to stop."

Since Jan. 1, the East Honolulu Crime Reduction Unit has made 12 arrests and linked the suspects to more than 50 cases, said Muramoto, who credits officers Chris Kobayashi and Mike Fisher for the busts.

Taggers work in teams, Muramoto said. "One guy says they can do something mural-size in 45 to 90 minutes," he said. "Two guys are working on it and one guy is a lookout."

The suspects arrested in January were age 16 to 22. All were charged with either felony, misdemeanor or petty misdemeanor criminal property damage.

Isaac Choy, whose Old Manoa Finance Building was tagged over the New Year's weekend, favors tougher penalties.

"If the police would be kind enough to bring the kids they arrested for my building to me, I'd punch them out," Choy said.

"Kids are uncontrollable so I don't know if you can hold the parents totally responsible, but I think they and their kid should be made to paint over the graffiti damage."

Mirikitani agrees. "Juveniles arrested repeatedly are being slapped on the wrist or getting light first penalties and end up back on the streets. Some who are sentenced to paint over graffiti never show up to do it," he said.

"At the very minimum, they should be required to remove the graffiti immediately, and they or their parents should pay restitution. . . ."

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