December 11, 2003

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if it really isn’t just “kids being kids?” That seems like the standard excuse whenever a young person steps out of line, gets in a little trouble or breaks a law or two. Granted I was no angel when I was younger, and I suspect there are a few readers out there in the same boat. Still, I feel like I had a good handle on the difference between good, clean fun, and criminal activity. As I pass down the road next to the school each day I must say it bothers me to see the growing amount of graffiti as that allusive line between crime and game apparently has been obscured for some.

I’m not talking about the street paintings. I understand the concept began as an opportunity for the senior students to celebrate their final year in school by painting their names on the street itself. Unfortunately, it appears that annual practice has now expanded to include street signs and even private property. I realize this case is just like any other, where a few bad apples can spoil it for the rest of the bunch. Because of that I’ll stop short of advocating the elimination of the street painting, because I think it is a colorful way to allow the 12th graders a chance to celebrate. However I would encourage these same students to police themselves. Don’t let those who would go beyond the allowable limit to ruin it for everyone else. I’d like to tip my hat to the students I saw working one day trying to clean-up the damage and encourage them, and others like them, to work to stop the damage before it’s done. Also consider there are much better ways of extolling the virtues of your graduating class than by plastering your name all over the town. Put yourself in the property owners’ shoes? Would you want some old fuddy duddy spray painting “Class of 1889 Rules” all over your backpack or jacket?

Those stop signs that were painted cost taxpayers $24 each to replace. While the “artists” may think it is cute or funny to deface the signs it simply is property damage, a criminal offense. Even worse is the portrait of our community that those graffiti covered signs demonstrate to visitors in Memphis. We have a beautiful school campus but most visitors are going to remember the derogatory sayings on a couple of stop signs, ruining the rest of the picture for them.

A criminal record, fines and the bundle of hours of community service cleaning up your handiwork may not be enough to make you think twice about committing vandalism. Eventually you will be a taxpayer. Do you want to spend your money paying for the painter’s canvas? Insurance rates go up, money needed for other community improvements is wasted, and time of municipal employees that could be used in other productive ways is squandered – all in the name of “kids being kids”.

Stop and consider the fact that vandalism is damaging someone else’s property. A few moments of destructive behavior can last forever for the victims. Sure it’s just a couple of stop signs but where do we draw the line?

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