The search warrant was served on the house of the tagger around Thanksgiving of 2003. I was invited to attend so that I could get a feel for this particular crime and criminal. I drove to the suspect's hometown, zipped across town via a main arterial and began to navigate through various residential areas. I watched as the business district turned to middle-class residential neighborhood and then to decidedly rougher digs – a residential neighborhood adjacent to an industrial area and partially fenced in by a rail yard. Sadly, I had sensed that I was in the correct neighborhood well before I pulled into the suspect’s driveway.
As a non-commissioned – let’s just say it – lab rat, I had no prior experience on which to draw. My imagination had been running wild. The officers led me into the suspect’s room – a bedroom in the house his mother was renting. The room was like a cave. Its single window was covered with black plastic. The walls were painted royal blue which made them feel like they were collapsing in on themselves. The paint wasn’t quite dark enough or thick enough; I could see the shadows of tags and throw-ups beneath. The dressers and bookshelves were covered with graffiti – tags of the 16-year old suspect and surely those of his associates too. He had even practiced using a glass etch solution on his TV screen.
The officers all assured me that this scene was typical.
Back at the police station, after all of the evidence was logged in, I was given a lesson on the paraphernalia that accompanies this crime.
dozens of spray cans - all without their spray nozzle tips
white cottony particulate face masks
numerous twin-tip markers - a fat wedge on one end and a thin point at the other
photos of his associates
photos of tags, throw-ups and pieces
half a dozen piecebooks filled with sketches of tags and throw-ups
Left behind in his room by the officers were the bottles of rubbing alcohol and the do-it-yourself tattoo works – sewing needles and India ink. For the curious, While You Were Sleeping issue #20, page 30 gives instructions. Conspicuously absent from the evidence collected from the bedroom were the spray nozzle tips for the spray paint cans. I imagined a closely guarded collection of New York Thins, Rusto Fats and German Outlines, undoubtedly tucked safely in his gear and in his possession for this weekend’s road trip.
The search warrant was executed on a school day, but the suspect had traveled out of town for a concert. When he does attend school it is at an alternative facility. His mother, unapologetic about the truancy and the graffiti, agreed to send him down to the police station when he returned.
Again, not being a street-hardened officer, and instead a clean-cut kid from the Midwest, this was all a shock to me – the tagger culture.
Open the door, walk inside and smell the paint fumes.
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