Back in the mid-’80s, Chicago was being bathed in graffiti by young taggers armed with spray paint. Most of the taggers targeted the CTA trains and buses along with CTA stations because of the enormous audience of the riding public.
As a Chicago Police sergeant and then lieutenant, I was in charge of the Police Department’s undercover units that patrolled the CTA. Our main concern was the safety and security of the riding public. However, as the taggers continued to destroy CTA property with daily assaults using spray paint and markers to deface as many cars and stations as they could, the powers that be asked me to deploy a certain number of officers to try to stop the millions of dollars being spent on clean-up.
We began a war on graffiti that lasted for several years. Hundreds and hundreds of arrests followed. The damage was spreading to private property, garages, buildings, walls and street signs.
One day, I was summoned to the office of Eileen Carey, who was then the commissioner of Streets and Sanitation. She said the mayor was fed up with the taggers and the damage, and she asked me what they could do to help besides all the arrests after the damage. We agreed on two things. One was to keep the paint cans out of the hands of those who were abusing them. The other was an effective way to clean up the damage on a timely basis, making the taggers less effective in their pursuit of fame.
From that came the Graffiti Blaster program, a terrific tool that is in effect today. Then in 1992 the City of Chicago voted to ban the sale of spray paint in the entire city. This led the paint lobby and industry to challenge the city in federal court.
I was a witness for the city in front of federal Judge Marvin Aspen, who eventually ruled against the ban. However the city appealed to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where Judge Aspen’s ruling was overturned. The paint industry appealed to the United States Supreme Court and on March 4, 1994, Justice John Paul Stevens, speaking for the Supreme Court, upheld Chicago’s spray paint ban — in my opinion a big birthday present for the taxpayers of Chicago.
My advice to those city leaders who are attempting to undo that ban and sell spray paint to those 18 or older: You are making a big mistake. If you sell to 18-year-olds, their 14- 15- 16- and 17-year-old friends will be easily armed again with easy accessible spray paint. It’s naive to think that signs at stores saying damage to property is a crime will be effective.
All the laws in the world will not stop this type of behavior. It will take arrests, and that means cops have to be taken off more important duties to fight this battle again. The money that would be generated by the stores and the so-called shot to the economy will most certainly be offset by damage clean-up and the cost of cops again chasing taggers.
My humble advice is let a good thing continue or else suffer the consequences. Let’s not forget what those days and nights were like before the ban.
Bob Angone, Miramar Beach, Fla.
Clueless about veterans
It is amazing and reflective of the lack of knowledge Americans have of their own history that they are clueless about the role veterans play in the anti-war movement. As Memorial Day approaches, it would do us all well to realize that the biggest voices against war are of those who actually have fought in war.
Edward Juillard, Morgan Park
Why was he on the streets?
Reading about the gun that was stolen from relatives of a former Chicago Police officer, and then used to shoot three active-duty cops, I’m struck by the fact that the assailant, the late Lamar Harris, had been convicted of seven felonies, and was awaiting trial on a drug charge. My question is, in what parallel universe legal system can a 29-year-old, seven-time felon currently awaiting trial for another crime, possibly be free to roam the public streets? It’s not that he was arrested seven times, or even that he was actually charged seven times; the man was convicted seven times. And they were all felonies. Can anyone explain this?
Mark R Villano, Lincoln Square
No common sense
According the gun lobby, any step to enact measures around guns is an attack on Second Amendment rights. It is hard to understand why we are letting this minority — however vocal — fly in the face of common sense.
A measure pending in the Illinois General Assembly would require gun dealers to be licensed. We know from national research that a disproportionate number of guns used in crimes start from a small number of dealers. This law would give the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation the ability to identify those gun dealers and take appropriate steps.
People who obtain guns lawfully have nothing to fear from these regulations. Many responsible gun dealers already have measures in place that correspond to the terms of this law. The intent is simply to make it harder to obtain guns illegally and to minimize the chances of apparently legal sales ending up in the wrong hands. We should not let the gun lobby cower the politicians into refusing to take action in the face of insane levels of gun violence.
Mike Koetting, River North
The people spoke
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell justifies his decision to refuse to allow the Senate to consider D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court by saying that he wants to wait until after the November election so that “the people can speak.”
President Barack Obama was elected by overwhelming majorities in 2008 and 2012. The people spoke! Just because McConnell doesn’t like what the people said in those two elections, he has no right to block the nomination process until he gets an election whose outcome he likes better. McConnell is making a farce of the constitutional process. Imagine what he would be saying if the president were a Republican and the Democrats controlled the Senate and they were blocking that president’s choice.
What if Obama’s successor is also a Democrat? Judge Garland’s hearings should begin. This all-important body, The United States Supreme Court, is being rendered impotent by a petty, selfish political agenda.
Karen Wagner, Rolling Meadows