Unconscientious objectors

June 21, 1993

There was a time when inner city walls were covered wit slogans such as "Free the Catonsville Nine," "Free Huey Newton" and "Free the Chicago Seven." In most cities, non-political graffiti has replaced these declarations, but this month the walls of a half-dozen Carroll businesses and public buildings -- including the county courthouse -- sported the spray-painted slogan, "Free Pam Davis."

The vandal or vandals responsible certainly didn't do Davis any favors. Take, for example, businessman Neil Sarsfield. To remove the phrase, "Legalize Hemp," from an exterior wall of his Burger King restaurant in Westminster, he will have to hire a sandblasting firm.

No wonder he is not as sympathetic to Davis' cause as he might have been. There are probably dozens of other people in the county with similar sentiments.

Davis, who is serving an unjustified two-year prison sentence for marijuana possession, is not pleased, either.

In a letter to the editor of this newspaper, she wrote: "[The] act was one of vandalism. . . It was ill-conceived and revealed [a] total lack of understanding regarding the proper channels for publicly expressing grievances with the institutions of government." She called the defacing of these buildings "an act of cowardice."

This graffiti is deplorable, but it should be kept in perspective. The defacement does not mean that Carroll County is on the road to becoming a rural version of an inner-city slum. Graffiti has been sighted in the county for some time in small amounts. Some garages in Westminster, as well as bridge abutments, carry the indecipherable marks of graffiti writers.

But because much of this graffiti doesn't convey a meaningful sentiment to the rest of us, it is unremarkable and immensely forgettable. "Free Pam Davis," however, carries a message we can all understand and on which we can form an opinion, so it stands out.

Davis is no Nelson Mandela or Vaclav Havel, political leaders imprisoned for their beliefs and popular subjects for graffiti writers. She is, however, serving a disproportionately long sentence simply because she is an outspoken advocate for the legalization of marijuana.

Confronting power is a popular subject for graffitists, but there are more appropriate, effective and legal channels to express indignation over Pam Davis' plight.

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