Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Cops kill another graf writer
On Tuesday night Jason Kitchekeg, a local graffiti artist who went under the name Sole, was running from police when he jumped into the river. The cops caught the other two artists they were chasing, but Kitchekeg wasn't so lucky. He was pulled from river later that night, and died at the hospital.
Naturally, most of the coverage of Kitchekeg's death reads the same way any story about a criminal killed by cops would. But he wasn't a criminal. He was an artist. If the cops hadn't been chasing Kitchekeg, he would most likely still be alive.
Michael Stewart. Jonathan See Lim. These are only some of the best-known examples of victims of the cops and the criminalization of graffiti. But there are plenty more, many of whom we may not even know about. The response of the newspapers is always the same: "if he hadn't been defacing public property then he wouldn't be dead."
That graffiti is even considered a crime, however, is ludicrous. It represents the sick double-bind that modern urban planning traps young people into. Jobs vanish, school budgets slashed, community centers shut down, entire blocks are left to rot. And when these kids who have nowhere to go start to make their own surroundings a more vibrant, hopeful and dynamic place, they are labeled hoodlums and gang members.
This is highlighted by the fact that the building Kitchekeg was tagging wasn't even occupied. It's a paint manufacturing plant that has sat idle for quite some time. There are no plans to tear it down, and no new renters are known at this point. It was sitting there rotting. And yet young people who take it upon themselves to brighten things up a bit are turned into common thugs by the cops.
Brian Lopez, a longtime friend of Kitchekeg made it clear: "He was painting an abandoned building. He wasn't hurting anyone. People think all graffiti is gang graffiti, but there's also graffiti art. That's what he did. For us, it's been a salvation. A lot of us have come from bad neighborhoods, and graffiti and hip-hop was something that was the opposite of that."