Monday, October 22, 2007

Bureacrats threaten family over child's chalk drawing.

Everything that is not illegal is compulsory. Remember that old humorous line? Well, it’s more and more true every day.

Natalie Shea is six-years-old and she did something that lots of small children have done for a very long time. She used some chalk to draw on the sidewalk in front of her house. A couple of days later Natalie’s mother received a warning letter from the New York City Sanitation Department saying that the “graffiti” must be removed and that “failure to comply” “may result in enforcement action against you.”

Cathy Dawkins, a bureaucrat that speaks for the department, said that if graffiti is placed on private property the city will punish the property owner unless they remove it. In addition she says that even if the “graffiti” is sidewalk chalk “does not matter”. A Brooklyn newspaper interviewed sidewalk chalk artist Ellis Gallagher about the case. Mr. Gallagher says he does sidewalk art all the time and is never arrested and that obviously there is no problem here except an over anxious bureaucracy.

A few days later, while Mr. Gallagher was being filmed by PBS regarding his art the police arrived and arrested him for his chalk drawings. The dangerous criminal was handcuffed and taken to jail where he had to spend the night. Charges were dropped the next day without explanation. Mr. Gallagher wanted to know if the police intend to “arrest all the kids”.

Now what about reverse graffiti? In this case a “vandal” cleans the surface of a wall, sidewalk, sign, etc., but selectively. By removing the grime he creates light spots which contrast with the surrounding dirty areas and an image is created.

Phil Curtins, in Leeds, England, used this technique to create his art and the city has threatened him for vandalism. A bureaucrat there said: “Leeds residents want to live in clean and attractive neighbourhoods and expect their streets to be free of graffiti and illegal advertising. We also view this rogue advertising as environmental damage and will take strong action against any advertisers carrying out such campaigns without out the relevant permission.”

Where do you start with a comment like that? I assume Leeds residents do want clean neighbourhoods. But Mr. Curtis is actually cleaning not dirtying. Yes, his cleaning only makes it apparent how dirty everything else is but this is like prosecuting someone for painting their home because in comparison the neighbour's house now looks shabby.

And is cleaning away dirt now an “environmental” threat? If selective cleaning of a wall is damaging the environment then I suppose complete cleaning is out of the question. Apparently the people in Leeds want clean neighbourhoods but actually cleaning is a crime.

I suspect the real issue is the last phrase,”without permission.” Bureaucrats get very upset if someone discovers something which they hasn’t yet been regulated. If the reverse graffiti is vandalism, or damaging to the environment, then how does having permission reverse that? Is the city saying they have the right to allow people to vandalize and create harm? Clearly no one seriously thinks that this is either vandalism or harming the environment. The real issue is that Mr. Curtis found something that was unregulated by local bureaucrats and this scares them.

Apparently bureaucrats are mindless numbnuts no matter which country employs them. Now wait for the authoritarians to whine that if we didn't have this sort of Nanny-statism that crime would run rampant and terrorists would be walking the streets free. My favorite moronic replies are those that argue that to oppose stupid actions like this means that one is willing to turn a blind eye to rape and murder. Apparently law-fetishists have no sense of proportion or rights. Laws against real crimes are then used to justify laws against faux crimes.

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