Art Attack: Anti-Graffiti Task-Force Cracks Down

by emily dirienzo

For anybody living in the New York City area it is impossible to imagine a city without graffiti. Lines and letters demand attention from rooftops and overpasses, and several sacred spots have been reserved solely for the exhibition of this urban art form. While I’d be the last one to promote vandalism, a few headliners caught my attention, and made me wonder exactly who the enemy is in the recent graffiti crackdown.


The case that warranted my outrage was that of Brooklyn artist Julie Torres who was arrested in July for vandalism after undercover police officers found her painting with watercolors on a piece of paper taped to a wall in Williamsburg. Affixed with painter’s tape, and in just a few hours any traces of Torres’s work would be gone along with the artist, yet the NYPD Vandals Taskforce decided to detain her anyway.

[Above: Torres and her “graffiti” in Williamsburg]

The rebel cry that graffiti is art is lost in the case of Julie Torres, who does not identify herself as a graffiti artist let alone see her work as an act of rebellion or vandalism.  A childhood friend of mine, however, was arrested last year and is now serving a three-year sentence for an alleged 200,000 dollars worth of damage to the city of Pittsburgh. I use the term “damage” loosely because I personally find spray painting dilapidated old freight cars and the walls of abandon warehouses to be more of an improvement than a destructive act, but that’s just me.

Despite my view of graffiti as an art form I recognize the major difference between what Torres was doing and the marks left by my friend, which is why I don’t think arguments against graffiti are as black and white as these task-forces attempt to make them. Instead, the worlds of street art and graffiti are as colorful as their mediums, and shouldn’t be lumped under the same connotative label of vandalism. 

[Above: The famous 5 Pointz in Queens, NY is a mind-blowing collaboration of seasoned and novice graffiti artists commissioned by the building’s owner, just steps from the Ps1 museum of contemporary art.]

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