Adam Mansbach criticizes NYC’s treatment of graffiti artists:
[The War on Graffiti] midwifed today’s era of epic incarceration, quality of life offenses, zero tolerance policies, prejudicial gang databases, and three-strike laws. The War on Graffiti turned misdemeanors into felonies, community service into jail time. It put German Shepherds to work patrolling the train yards; Mayor Koch once suggested an upgrade to wolves. Today, the city prosecutes hundreds of graffiti cases each year, and maintains a dedicated Citywide Vandals Task Force. Nationally, writers have been sentenced to prison terms as long as eight years, and ordered to pay six-figure restitutions. In other words, the war rages on.
As a kid, during the time I was coming up in hip hop, you were expected to be conversant with all the art forms — the sonic, the kinetic, and the visual — and to be proficient in at least a couple in order to fully “be” hip hop. I was an MC and a DJ, but I also wrote graffiti. I wasn’t great, but the thrill of it was captivating, and I quickly discovered that graffiti writers were the mad geniuses and eccentrics of hip hop, the guys whose relationship to their craft was the most fraught and intense, the guys who labored in the dark, literally, whose lives were a discourse between fame and anonymity, who used “beautify” and “destroy” almost interchangeably when they talked about their work. And when I first got into hip hop around 1987, graffiti was already being forced off the New York subway trains, which had been its canvas since the beginning. So there was this sense of a death throe, and of guys outliving the form they’d created, which was weird and tragic, even though graffiti had already gone worldwide by then.
(Image from Banksy)