Article in Variant, number 32, summer 2008
by Monika Vykoukal, curator and writer
Free Daze – an illegal fly-poster seeking the release of Glasgow graffiti artist Daze aka Gary Shields, who was jailed for 28 months on March 20th 2008, the longest such sentence handed down in Scotland... amidst a prisons overcrowding crisis and yet further calls for reform of the penal system. Graffiti, as in the case of Daze's eight instances of malicious mischief perpetrated on the public transport system, is prosecuted both under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2004) and as vandalism - ' the wilful, wanton, and malicious destruction of, or damage to, the property of another person' (1). With both the most common forms of graffiti, and the most frequent strategies employed to suppress it, firmly established for decades, the effect of Shield's incarceration as an example, as argued by the judge in the case, or the long-term benefits of clean-ups are possibly a little doubtful (2).
Deputy leader of Glasgow City Council, James Coleman, quoted in the Evening Times, responded to the Free Daze! campaign: "I'm glad this has been brought to our attention and we will be dealing with it as a matter of urgency. We will be trying to identify the people responsible - and hopefully they'll be locked up like Gary Shields. Graffiti destroys the environment we're trying to create of a clean Glasgow. It just goes to show you the mentality of these people who have no respect for the city."
The inconclusive claims about the relation of graffiti to actual crime, or the 'fear of crime' (3), which sustain and possibly increase this ongoing 'battle' between writers and the arm of the law (4), are, unfortunately, never matched by an enquiry into such salient questions as whether the public are in favour of the huge expenses incurred in policing and cleaning - such as the whopping £270.000 apparently required to remove traces of Daze (5).
Neither is the continuing increase of legal and commercial messages up for scrutiny. Coleman as deputy leader is himself responsible for the recent billboard-erection spree fouling the city, including the strobing LED displays blaring out sound pollution into 'pedestrian zones' for the likes of military recruitment. According to the BBC, from May 2008, new powers in the Commonwealth Games (2014) Bill, alongside the compulsory purchase of land, will give Glasgow City Council additional rein to censor and suppress "unauthorised advertising". The excuse for this intensified criminalisation of the 'misuse' of public space is to protect the interests of private sponsors. Trading Standards officers are to be given powers to cover billboards and signs and, under warrant, search premises where they suspect 'offences' are being committed.
The good news are that, on 12th May, Daze was freed on 'interim liberation' while on appeal (6).
The Free Daze campaign: http://livepetitions.co.uk/freedaze
(1) See http://www.police-information.co.uk/legislation/legislationindexsco.html. Malicious mischief carries a similar definition with higher punishment potential if we are reading the police information correctly.
Department for Transport, Case study report on Graffiti, November 2003; Issues emerging from the case studies: Investment to prevent and tackle graffiti and vandalism has to be long-term, sustained and targeted. The case studies revealed a number of examples of financial cutbacks in law enforcement and situational crime prevention measures at a time when graffiti and vandalism was thought to be reducing significantly. Such cutbacks were followed by a significant upsurge in the problems of graffiti and vandalism on transport networks.
(3)The key starting point for this claim is the 'Broken Windows' theory. See Kelling, George L.; Wilson, James Q. „Broken Windows. The police and neighbourhood safety”“, Atlantic Monthly, March 1982. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/crime/windows.htm (12.4.2004), and for a critique of their claims:
Miller, D.W. „Poking Holes in the Theory of ‚Broken Windows’“, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9.2.2001. http://chronicle.com/free/v47/i22/22a01401.htm (12.4.2004)
(4) Ferrell, Jeff. "Crimes of Style: Urban Graffiti and the Politics of Criminality". New York, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993. See, e.g., a conclusion of his case study in Denver [pg. 105]: '...the clampdown has had the long-term effect of promoting the social and criminal careers of Denver writers-…- and thus accelerating the collective production of graffiti.'
(5)See The Daily Record. Graffiti Yob Gets Two Years For Causing £270k Of Damage, Mar 20 2008 By Keith Mcleod [http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2008/03/20/graffiti-yob-gets-two-years-for-causing-270k-of-damage-86908-20356449/]: A BTP source said: "The huge bills were run up because of the cost of accessing and cleaning the areas which had been damaged and also because of the fact that rolling stock had to be taken out of service to be cleaned and repaired."
Variant is Scotland’s leading independent arts journal, a ,agazine of cross-currents in culture: critical thinking, imaginatve ideas, independent media and artistic interventions.