- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Two D.C. Council members are proposing to ban the sale of spray paint and etching pens to minors in an effort to combat graffiti, a problem that one council member says is out of control and conducive to gang violence.

Council members Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, and Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, yesterday introduced the Restricting Minor Access to Graffiti Materials Act of 2003, which would prohibit the sale of all graffiti-making materials to anyone under 18.

“The proposal was an expression of frustration,” Mr. Graham said. “Graffiti is inextricably linked to gang identification and thus gang activities. The bill will place a large obstacle in the path of kids who want to damage and deface property.”

The council members’ proposal comes after the District has seen an increase in gang-related shootings and a proliferation of graffiti in Northwest neighborhoods this past summer. Most scrawlings signify a gang presence, city leaders and activists say.

Mr. Brazil could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, when asked about the proposal at his weekly press briefing yesterday, could not comment.

“I haven’t seen it yet,” he said.

Since he first became mayor in 1999, Mr. Williams has focused mostly on graffiti-cleanup efforts, instead of prevention.

In 1999, Mr. Williams introduced the Anti-Graffiti Amendment Act, which authorizes the mayor to assume financial responsibility for removing graffiti from privately owned property. He purchased two $75,000 power-washing trucks to remove graffiti. The cost of graffiti removal is estimated at $100 an hour, or about $250,000 a year.

The proposed bill is an amendment to the Anti-Intimidation and Defacing of Public or Private Property Criminal Penalty Act of 1982. It would prohibit the sale of graffiti implements to anyone under 18, make the act of graffiti or sale of graffiti materials to a minor punishable by fines, imprisonment or both, and hold parents accountable for graffiti created by their children.

Mr. Graham said there would be exceptions for young people who are accompanied to a store and supervised by a parent, teacher or employer.

Currently, minors who are charged with defacing property face up to 15 days in a juvenile correctional facility, 24 hours of community service, which includes removing the graffiti, and a $1,000 fine in addition to all other penalties and restoration work.

The proposed amendment calls for the fine to be increased to $2,000 and the maximum jail sentence to be extended to 180 days.

Merchants in the District who sell spray paint said yesterday they wouldn’t mind the restrictions.

“It would have only a small effect [on business],” said Jim Desta, owner and manager of Adams Morgan Hardware at 2200 18th St. NW. “For sure, it would help. A lot of times kids buy the paint to paint their bikes, which are sometimes stolen, and, of course, for the graffiti, which isn’t good. I wouldn’t have a problem with [the ban].”

This is not the first time a municipality has attempted such a ban.

The city of Chicago banned the sale of spray paint to minors and adults in 1992, and New York City banned the sale of spray paint to minors in 1995.

In New York, the graffiti law bars the sale of spray paint to minors and requires merchants to lock them in a case or display them behind a counter, out of reach from the public. Other major cities including Phoenix and Denver also have passed similar “lockup” ordinances, which restrict customer access to spray paint in stores.

Mr. Graham said he is open to such an idea.

“The proposal was made out of sheer frustration.” Mr. Graham said. “We’re open to other suggestions. We wouldn’t be opposed to a complete ban of spray paint like Chicago has done. Some places like California had proposed paddling as a penalty for offenders, which I’m not condoning. But it shows just how exasperated people have become with the problem. Something has to be done.”

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