Thursday, June 21, 2012
City Settles Massive MTA/Smear Graffiti Lawsuit - Good or Bad?
The City of Los Angeles is trying to turn street artists into gang members.
The City of Los Angeles settled a lawsuit issued years ago agains the MTA graffiti crew and Smear. In the agreement, the city will put a tagger injunction on MTA, much like a gang-injunction, but will not enforce the nearly 5 million dollars in fines that had been levied against the artists. However, the artists still do have to pay restitution for proven acts of vandalism--and one writer will still get stuck with a $23,000 bill.
The tagger injunction is scary because it establishes a precedent to treat street artists like gang members.
City Attorney, Carment Trutanich, is heralding the injunction as a victory and a cause for celebration. It should be noted that Trutanich made the battle against street artists one of the focal points of his administration. Trutanich even reassigned workers from LA's gang units to go after and prosecute LA's street artists. Most people saw it as thinly veiled political posturing, and the move came back to bite Trutanich--he was the early favorite in the race for District Attorney, but failed to even make the run-off for the election, largely due to his focus on chasing street artists instead of violent crime.
Trutanich is reeling from the elections loss, along a decision this week by a judge to dismiss criminal charges in a Trutanich's lawsuit against a giant supergraphic ad installer, a major blow to Trutanich. In light of these losses, it seems that Trutanich went after the low hanging fruit to score a victory. He struck an agreement with a group of poor artists who couldn't pay the millions of dollars in fines they were being charged with anyway. It seems that when Trutanich got blasted for not prosecuting gang members, his response is to try and turn street artists into gangs.
Treating street artists and graffiti crews like gangs could have a severe long-term impact on the future of street art in LA. And, the sad thing is that the injunction was reached before the case went to trial, so the city's evidence was never put to test and questioned. After all, how did 500 charges of graffiti warrant 5 million dollars in fines?! And Trutanich's record against billboard violators is pretty weak. Out of 52 criminal charges, only 3 pled guilty, and all of them only received probation. It seems that there might have been a solid chance for a good court decision, should it have gone that far.
After the dust settles, it seems the good news is that the lawsuit is over for the artists, and Trutanich's political career is a trainwreck. The bad news is that it has become that much more precarious to be an artist on the streets of LA.