Police find it hard to enforce graffiti laws
Graffiti lines the wall of the pedestrian tunnel under Southwest 13th Street by Norman Hall. The tag pictured refers to the artist, Brown, and his graffiti crew, Letter Trans Formers.

Graffiti isn't a black-and-white issue.

Its legality, artistic merit and permanence are debated. But in Gainesville, it's still vandalism.

On July 21, it took Chris Arters, a Physical Plant Division employee, about 30 minutes to clean graffiti off the potato-shaped rock in Turlington Plaza, according to Wayne Wainwright, UF facilities department manager.

According to Wainwright, graffiti shows up every week on campus during the summer. During during the fall, it's every few days.

Sometimes, it takes a whole day to remove the graffiti.

The Southwest 34th Street wall, the 13th Street pedestrian tunnel and Turlington Plaza are three of Gainesville's biggest graffiti hot spots.

While technically illegal, no one has been arrested for vandalizing any of those three places in recent months.

About once or twice a year, students are disciplined for graffiti, said Capt. Jeff Holcomb of the University Police Department.

The wall on 34th Street is owned by the Florida Department of Transportation, and it is illegal to create graffiti there, according to Gina Busscher, a department spokeswoman.

"We don't have enforcement powers," she said. "We rely on local police, and it has not, in the past, been a high priority for the police to enforce the vandalism."

The Department of Transportation understands that police officers focus on issues that are more serious, she said.

Gainesville Police Department spokeswoman Cpl. Tscharna Senn said she doesn't think anyone has ever been arrested for vandalizing the wall.

The wall serves as a "community bulletin board," said Richard Heipp, interim director of the School of Art and Art History at UF.

Mickie MacKenzie, executive director of Keep Alachua County Beautiful, said the organization tries to paint over obscenities. Graffiti, she said, is usually an eyesore and a symbol of crime.

The pedestrian tunnel under 13th Street mostly serves as an artistic outlet for students, and it differs from more vulgar graffiti found elsewhere, Holcomb said.

"It's not even good tagging," he said.

But Holcomb said there's some good art on the 34th Street wall, including the memorial to the five UF students murdered in the fall of 1990.

Adam Tritt, a 45-year-old writer and therapist in Palm Bay, painted the memorial in September 1990.

"I knew the community was suffering, and I did something about it," Tritt said.

But he said it's "stark-raving crazy" that the memorial is still around 20 years later.

"It was going to be extremely temporary because that's the nature of the wall, which is why that center panel ruins the concept of the wall."

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, then a Gainesville Police captain, maintained the wall until 2000. Now, UF's Interfraternity Council maintains the memorial, said Sean Smith, the council's president.

For graffiti artists, Gainesville's not the best place to tag, one artist said. The graffiti artist, who goes by "Brown," started learning graffiti at the wall on 34th Street about three years ago.

He said it's frustrating that what he paints on the wall gets painted over. Generally, he said, it costs him about $15 for each piece he paints. He said many people have a misconception that graffiti crews are the same as gangs because of gang tags, but he said the gang tags aren't true graffiti because they mostly just mark territory.

But the Norman Tunnel offers first-time graffiti artists an opportunity to experiment.

Tuesday night, three high school seniors who are at UF for a summer science camp spray painted their first tags.

"It's something we wanted to leave behind," he said. "Now we're a part of history."