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A smarter way to keep spray paint from taggers

City workers are shown removing graffiti in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood in 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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After 24 years, it’s time to try a better approach to Chicago’s spray paint ban.

In a case that went all the way up to the Supreme Court, Chicago banned spray paint in 1992 because taggers used it to deface the city’s communities.

That’s been a consistent annoyance since to Chicagoans who had a legitimate need for paint they could apply with the push of a finger. It’s also been an annoyance to retailers who saw people head to the suburbs for spray paint and spend a lot of money on other things as well.

Now, a couple of aldermen want the Council to take a new approach, which make sense. If it doesn’t work, the city can always reinstate the ban.

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Ald. Edward Burke (14th), who helped push through the original ordinance, and Far Southwest Side Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) would let people 18 and older buy spring paint again. But there would be limits. Stores would be permitted to stock spray paint, broad-tipped markers and etching equipment only in areas “not accessible to the general public without employee assistance.”

O’Shea said that when local residents found their nearby hardware story didn’t sell the spray paint they needed, “They would continue to to the suburbs to get spray paint and everything else as well. It was a signifiant loss of sales.”

As an extra safeguard, Burke also is proposing much tougher sanctions. Along with community service, minors with “graffiti implements” could be fined $500 and triple that nabbed more than once in a year. Adults who helped taggers obtain the implements could be fined fine from $500 to $1,500 for each offense. Also, wherever spray paint is sold, assign would have to be posted that says: “Vandalism is against the law and punishable by a fine of up to $2,500” and up to 30 days in jail.

People who were sick of graffiti on garages, walls and sidewalks welcomed the ban when it went into effect. But O’Shea said he hopes the new rules, if approved by the City Council, could work as well and, with the higher fines, might even work better.

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