We can commiserate, point fingers at the parents, blame society and the lack of recreation choices available for teens, but the only solution is to come up with a punishment that fits the crime, and publish the results for everyone to see. The vandals need to have their actions made to be an embarrassment to them, and their punishment distasteful and harsh enough that to copy their actions would be foolish. We can't allow them to be seen as cool.
There are some who defend graffiti as "street art," but street art and vandalism are two different things. For every one graffiti artist who does beautiful work, a dozen or more are just kids writing their names. True street art is far less common than vandalism, and while some graffiti is art, most is not. Most is vandalism.
There's a temptation to excuse away the actions of these delinquents because we feel sorry for them, saying they're acting out of anger or frustration and that graffiti and window-breaking serve as an outlet for them, but if their acts go unpunished, what's to prevent them from thinking other more serious offenses won't be overlooked, too?
They might've been dealt a bad hand, but they don't have to play it.
We need to enforce curfews, designate a few bare walls where graffiti would be allowed, and most of all, we need to repeal the law that protects the identities of the offenders.
They need to be held accountable for their behavior, and they also need to repay their victims for damages. In some cities, juvenile offenders are required to work for Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit group that builds homes for low-income people. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the state's victim restitution fund pays the offender minimum wage for their time, and sends their earnings directly to the victim.
Instead of being sent to a detention facility, these teens learn construction skills, how to use tools, and other life skills, like showing up on time. And they see how long it takes to earn enough money to cover the cost of the damage they've done.
While it's easy to sit back and say, "Make them clean up their mess," it will be hard to enforce unless someone steps forward to volunteer. We need a group or individuals willing to be responsible for making certain the vandals get the work done.
We have to stop saying it's for the courts or police to handle. It's the community's problem, and it's for the community to handle.
Karin Fuller can be reached via e-mail at karinful...@cnpapers.com. Her columns can be accessed online through her blog at thegazz.com.