2005-08-24 / Features

Vallone Protests Graffiti Block Party

“This was never about art. This is about multimillion-dollar corporations fraudulently obtaining a permit to use our streets...”
“This was never about art. This is about multimillion-dollar corporations fraudulently obtaining a permit to use our streets...” Withholding a permit for a block party is a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, according to federal Judge Jed Rakoff of Manhattan. Rakoff on Monday night ordered New York City to allow a block party at which 20 artists plan to spray graffiti on models of subway cars.

The party was promoted by Marc Ecko, a fashion designer who began his career doing graffiti in New York. Last week the city revoked Ecko's permit for the party and its lawyers maintained that Ecko’s demonstration might encourage people to vandalize actual subway cars. After Rakoff’s decision, though, the party is set to take place tonight, August 24, on a block in Chelsea as part of a street fair. The Manhattan block party was intended to promote an Atari graffiti game, “Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure”. The city could still appeal.

“It’s disappointing that this graffiti fest is allowed to go forward,” City Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr., chair of the council Public Safety Committee and a leader of the fight against graffiti declared on hearing that Rakoff had reversed the city’s decision. “This was never about art. This is about multimillion-dollar corporations fraudulently obtaining a permit to use our streets to promote a video game which teaches kids how to commit crime. The city should start planning a graffiti cleanup party after this scam is pulled off.”

Vallone has doubled the penalties for graffiti and introduced a number of anti-graffiti measures to help fight this quality of life crime. He recently drafted legislation banning the possession of spray paint and other graffiti tools by anyone under 21 years of age.

Vallone had written numerous letters to the Mayor’s Office of Community Assistance and the Street Activity Permit Office requesting that the permit for the block party be revoked. The permit was revoked on the same day that Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted the block party during his daily press briefing. “Graffiti is just one of those things that destroys our quality of life...the city has spent a lot of money combating graffiti,” Bloomberg stated.

Jonathan Greenspun, the mayor's community-assistance director, said in a letter that the permit was being revoked because it assumed the event to be artistic rather than commercial. Then on August 22, Rakoff ruled to restore the permit and the block party was set to go forward.

“New York City shouldn't be in the business of promoting criminal acts,” Vallone said after initially getting the city to revoke the permit. “Holding graffiti demonstrations is like having a demonstration of a thug pickpocketing a wallet or stealing a purse.”

Vallone pointed out that the information submitted to the city to obtain the permit billed the event as a “tribute to graffiti art”, and never stated that it was a corporate promotional event; therefore, the application might be fraudulent.

“We're not going to make it easy for them to come into New York City and promote irresponsible criminal behavior,” Vallone said. “These multimillion-dollar corporations must understand they can’t use our streets to support these punks.”

Players of “Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure” are taught how to graffiti buildings, subway cars and other public and private property without getting caught. Vallone has already called on Atari not to release this possibly harmful game, but Atari has announced that they plan on releasing this game in September 2005. Vallone is threatening a boycott of Atari if the company decides to release the game, which he called “irresponsible”.

“I think Atari will soon learn that they are going to be a ‘Company UnderPressure,’ Vallone averred. “Irresponsible corporations like Atari and Ecko must get the message loud and clear: We don’t want them supporting criminals, and if they do we won't support them.”

Shares of Atari Inc. closed down nearly 40 percent on Wednesday, August 17 as the company continues to reel as a result of first quarter revenue loss. Shares have dropped a total of 78 percent from the same quarter the previous year.

“Atari is a desperate company, making desperate moves,” Vallone said. “They are willing to promote criminal behavior to climb out of the red.”

During the last few years there has been a rise in graffiti throughout New York City. The mayor highlighted this growing quality of life problem in his State of the City address. He also announced a major graffiti initiative, including creating an 80-member Police Department anti-graffiti task force with coordinators in every precinct.

“Graffiti is the classic example of a gateway crime. It lets crime and lawlessness get its ugly foot in the door,” Vallone declared.

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