Who among us, as kids on a rainy summer day, didn't vent a little pent up frustration with some crayons?
One day when you were 4, Mom left you alone in your bedroom while she did the laundry. Bored, you did a little redecorating, using every color in a box of Crayolas.
Later, Mom walked in and took a look at the Technicolor walls and hit the ceiling.
You got a lecture on what kind of behavior would be expected of you from that day forward. As an adult, you still tell your friends, "Mom was right." And that applies to about 95% of us.
What happened to the other 5%?
About half of them grew up and became "graffiti artists." Criminals, who cost governments nationwide about $15 billion yearly to clean up their "artwork." In some neighborhoods, graffiti lowers property values.
And the other half of that 5%, got jobs at various newspapers and now write stories that glamorize this criminal behavior. They are accomplices to criminal activity.
This week, Miami New Times writer Gus Garcia-Roberts has penned a loving, posthumous portrait of one former graffiti "artist," he calls a star. Jonathan Corso, alias Ynot, was killed last July after getting in a fight in the parking lot of a sleazy strip club where he was celebrating his 21st birthday. His killer has not been caught.
With florid prose, Garcia-Roberts paints a picture of a loving father with a genius IQ who started on the path to criminal activity early on and as an adult, spent his spare time defacing public property.
At age 16, Jonathan dropped out of Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines. Juvenile judges grew tired of seeing the same scraggly rebel in their courtrooms. They started throwing the book at him: First, 21 days in a detention facility. Then, nine months in an academy for juvenile delinquents, called the Bay Point School, in Cutler Bay.Garcia-Roberts isn't the only one at Miami New Times who portrays these scumbags as folk heroes.
Jonathan never really seemed to mind the kid-jail stints. He called the nine-month academy "camp." He was on the debate team and became the resident graffiti guru. Administrators let him spray-paint on wooden boards, and when football star Jason Taylor visited Bay Point, Jonathan taught him how to do his name in bubble letters.
Their heavy bombing spree, which lasted from early 2003 to late 2005, has all melted together like a long, surreal dream in Dose's memory. Nearly three years of Ynot and Dose heading out in his "taggin' wagon," an elephantine white 1991 Chevy Caprice, every night — Thanksgiving and Christmas included — and climbing heavens and billboards by ladders and slats, hopping fences, running from cops, getting beatdowns from cops, spending nights in lockup, and then racking more spray-paint cans from supermarkets and hardware stores the next day to do it all again. They carried a notebook full of spots they already hit or had their eye on.
Graffiti writers trade their stories like currency, and Dose has a few good ones. Like the sweltering night when he and Ynot were scaling a billboard off State Road 84 (Miami-Dade sign owners are smart enough to lift the ladders far off the ground, but in Broward, they still haven't figured it out) and a cop happened to stop his cruiser directly underneath them to stake out speeders. The pair barely breathed for two hours, Dose dropping sweat onto Ynot, until the officer finally moved on. They did the billboard anyway. "We had a motto," Dose says. "As long as you get the piece up, it doesn't matter if you're busted afterwards. The job is done."
Last year New Times editor Chuck Strouse wrote of some I-95 graffiti perpetrated by Ynot and his crew, Buk Fifty: "Now, El Jefe is no fan of graffiti generally, and we know it takes a lot to clean up, but this is very cool. Get on the highway to see it before it's gone. And we salute you, Buk Fifty.
Strouse and Garcia-Robert employ the same kind of topsy-turvy logic the friends of Ynot are guilty of using.
His friends, we learn, are mourning Ynot's death by "painting tributes throughout South Florida," according to the Sun-Sentinel. And in what has to be the ultimate tribute to convoluted thinking, Ynot's friends "say they hope their work — which is mostly done illegally — puts added pressure on police to make an arrest in the case."
But the boys at New Times aren't alone in singing the praises of this crap.
Last year, the Miami Herald headlined a story about a book on the graffiti sub-culture, calling graffiti artists "misunderstood."
And in another Herald story last year on the death of one graffiti "writer" who "lost his footing while attempting to tag a traffic sign overhanging the Palmetto Expressway near Bird Road," writer Andrea Torres told readers that some graffiti artists are getting an early start. Some parents are apparently breeding new graffiti writers like so many cockroaches.
Keli Schneider, 25, a former writer who tagged using the name KELS, likes to take her 7-year-old son, Christian, to hip-hop parties. Christian's graffiti tag is KID KAOS.Yeah, right!
''Crayons are boring. Spray painting is better,'' he said at a recent party in Little River. ``I am going to get good.''
''He paints [on legal surfaces] with his uncles and some of my friends,'' Schneider said. ``I know there are risks when you do graffiti, and I will warn him about them when he gets older.''
''I can't control if my son one day decides to take risks like him,'' Schneider said. ``I am not going to stop my son from doing it. Maybe one day, he will be famous. The sky is the limit.''
Torres balances her piece with some sobering facts: "Miami-Dade spends about $122,000 covering up graffiti on public property. Hialeah spent about $50,000, and the state Department of Transportation about $80,000."
But you wont find any of that in Garcia-Roberts' story. Garcia-Roberts, who says he finds graffiti writers "fascinating," told me by phone that he didn't want to write a story "from a judgmental perspective."
Sadly, graffiti isn't going to disappear anytime soon. One graffiti writer says, (in the video below), that she doesn't care if it takes taxpayer money to clean up graffiti: "I'm a taxpayer, too"
But, why would anyone want to quit? Especially when they have the crew at Miami New Times watching their backs.