Graffiti vandals sent out to cover up their deeds

January 10, 1995|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,Sun Staff Writer

Dan Randall painted over his crime yesterday.

Using a roller and a brush, he spread off-white paint over yards of graffiti -- including a 6-foot-high TASK he once had sprayed in black letters on Pizza Paradise's wall in the 600 block of Conkling St.

"It's strange and sad to have to paint over my own work," Mr. Randall, 22, said as he rolled a final coat of paint over his "tag," a code name recognized within the graffiti fraternity. "This type of cleanup really makes you think a little bit about what you're actually doing when you put up graffiti.

"You see what it does to the buildings and how rundown and unkempt it makes them look."

Mr. Randall is one of 10 graffiti writers arrested by city police between June and October as part of a program to clean up Baltimore. Prompted by the growing phenomenon of "tag-art," the city and the Downtown Partnership, a business group, are working with local judges to make sure vandals clean up their mess.

Once convicted, graffiti writers are ordered to perform at least 100 hours -- and sometimes more than 300 hours -- of cleanup work. Most are given from six to nine months in which to log the hours.

Mr. Randall, a security guard at the Baltimore Museum of Art and a painting student at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, was sentenced in October to 333 hours of cleanup. He has completed about 30 hours.

"The punishment is appropriate for the crime in this case -- clean up what you did," says District Judge Theodore Oshrine, who in October sentenced Mr. Randall and five other vandals to community service. "The individual avoids going to jail, learns a lesson and helps out the community, who's trying to keep the area clean."

Cleaning graffiti is costly in Baltimore.

The city's Off the Wall team -- 10 public works employees whose sole job is to remove graffiti -- has removed about 2 million square feet of paint since 1989. Meanwhile, about 30 workers for the Downtown Partnership help remove graffiti.

Since the police crackdown started, graffiti vandalism in the downtown area has dropped, says Edith Dotson, supervisor of the public works cleanup team.

"Usually if we clean up a building, you could almost guarantee that in two to three days or over a weekend, it would be marked up again with tags and junk," Ms. Dotson said. "Now the same guys who have been putting this junk up on the streets are working with us."

Along Falls Road, abandoned warehouses providing flat surfaces still remain ideal for graffiti. Other hot spots, according to vandals and police: the subway line, from Rogers Avenue to Old Court; Howard and Charles streets; and the 1200 block of Mount Royal Ave.

Such areas are popular for doing "throw-ups" -- an outline of a mural or a tag that isn't filled in with colors.

"Pieces" are usually 4-foot drawings that use a tag to make an abstract shape or design. The piece is then filled in with elaborate detail and bright colors such as red, orange or blue. "These guys may think they're artists, but what they're actually doing is defacing buildings and causing thousands of dollars' worth of damage," said Maj. Leonard Hamm, commander of the Central Police District. "When you have graffiti, crime is not far behind.

"Bad guys come in and see the graffiti on walls and the broken glass and then that criminal thinks no one cares about this place so, 'I can set up shop here and do as I please.' "

Many graffiti writers say painting is a form of artistic expression, not vandalism. Tagging buildings in heavily traveled areas, they say, earns graffiti writers respect among their fraternity.

"It inflates your ego when people you don't even know come up to you and say 'Good work on that piece,' " Mr. Randall said. "Graffiti is an addiction. It's like a drug . . . a bad drug. When you're out doing it, trying to tag the 'hot spots,' you have such an adrenalin rush in doing it."

Mr. Randall also was arrested for defacing buildings in 1988; he had to pay $600 in restitution and perform 40 hours sorting clothes at Goodwill in Dundalk. Now, with 303 hours of cleanup left on his recent conviction, he says he's done with graffiti.

"I figure I've been caught twice now, and I don't want to push it."

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