Ralph Doty: Put graffiti 'artists' in the slammer

Duluth is on the verge of becoming another Prague -- and not in a flattering way. In 1999, I realized my dream of visiting the Czech Republic, now a democracy and a country I've always admired for its people's courage during occupation by its com...

Duluth is on the verge of becoming another Prague -- and not in a flattering way.

In 1999, I realized my dream of visiting the Czech Republic, now a democracy and a country I've always admired for its people's courage during occupation by its communist landlords.

Our first stop was Prague, the capitol city. I was shocked at what I saw: Every wall in the downtown area was smeared by graffiti. The vandalism had even spread into nearby residential neighborhoods. The so-called artists -- they're really criminals -- spared nothing. It was heartbreaking. (Recent Internet reports from Prague indicate that some progress is being made to stop the graffiti epidemic, but there is a long way to go.)

In the June 8 Duluth Budgeteer News, police chief Gordon Ramsay wrote about the recent wave of graffiti incidents in Duluth: "Both the victims and their neighbors are outraged at the violation of property and by the image of vandals and gangs roaming the neighborhood."

But now it's not only Duluth's neighborhoods.


Several weeks ago a gutsy criminal somehow was able to spray paint on an overhead sign on I-35 near downtown.

Then, this week, while biking on the Lakewalk, I was stunned to see that a graffiti-criminal had painted a portion of the walkway's blacktop, sprayed the viaduct near 27th Avenue East and painted over some Lakewalk signs.

Well, I have news for those graffiti-criminals: That's my property (and every Duluthian's property) you're defacing. And we resent it.

In his Budgeteer article, Ramsay hinted at a reason graffiti-criminals are continuing their vandalism: ridiculously light penalties handed down to culprits.

According to Ramsay, a "major graffiti artist" was caught after painting up the Piedmont area. His sentence for that criminal action: six months' probation.

No jail time. Just probation. This, after he defaced enough property to make it a felony-level crime.

Another graffiti-criminal who defaced downtown walls got probation until he's 18 years old and he has to pay restitution for the clean-up. Big deal!

Gary Schmies, assistant Duluth city attorney and prosecutor, told me that anyone inflicting more than $1,000 damage to public property has committed a felony. Judges could sentence a perpetrator to a fine of up to $10,000 and/or five years in prison.


C'mon judges, treat these spray-can-hoodlums for what they are: criminals. One or two stiff prison sentences will likely make believers out of others who might be tempted to show us what great "art" looks like.


I wonder if the late George Carlin -- a master at pointing out hypocrisies in our society -- ever did a comedy routine about this.

When economic times are good, most large corporations tell lawmakers to keep their hands off company enterprises.

Things work best, they say, when the government doesn't meddle in corporate affairs. The free-market system is best, and the freer the better.

But when the economy goes sour, as it has in the past year, Well then, they ask, where's the government when we need it to bail us out?

For instance, in Tuesday's USA Today, some free-market advocates must have gone apoplectic when they read a full-page ad paid for by the National Association of Home Builders.

The "open letter to Congress" reads, in part: "Housing is in the grips of the most crippling downturn since the Great Depression. It is the time for flexibility and compromise. It is time for action. For the sake of those who have lost confidence in the strength of housing to the economy to provide a better life for all Americans, we urge Congress to complete ... landmark housing stimulus legislation now before the House and Senate ... and send this important housing bill to the president before the July 4 recess."


In other words, we don't like government interference in the housing market, but now that we're in trouble....

Another example: The financial firm Bear Stearns made a fortune (for a while anyway) dealing in what The Associated Press calls "opaque mortgage-backed securities." It was a "strategy that backfired" amid a housing crisis that resulted in a high number of mortgage foreclosures. Bear Stearns had to take nearly $3 billion in write-downs.

In danger of going under, Bear Stearns, a paragon of free-market economics, pleaded with the government (the Federal Reserve) and JP Morgan, another bank with a more responsible management team, to bail them out. They did just that.

Yessiree, keep that doggone government out of our lives, except when our businesses get in trouble.

Then, we really love government -- until we're out of trouble.

Then, government should let the free-market system operate again -- until we screw up again and need another bailout.

It's hypocrisy at its worst.

Ralph Doty's column appears in the Budgeteer every two weeks. He also broadcasts late-afternoon news on KDAL-AM (610). Contact him at .

What To Read Next
Get Local