Arts & Culture News

Deep Ellum's Legal Street Artists Are Banding Together to Remove Illegal Grafitti

On Tuesday, April 18, local artists will restore Deep Ellum murals that have been defaced with tags.
On Tuesday, April 18, local artists will restore Deep Ellum murals that have been defaced with tags. Steve Hunter
Deep Ellum has an illegal street art problem, and local artists who are painting legally have had enough.

Steve Hunter, community award winner in the 42 Murals contest, has organized a public event on Tuesday, April 18, to restore commissioned pieces of art by removing “tags.” Deep Ellum Mural Restoration and Removal Day will start at noon, in front of Hunter’s award-winning mural, “Deep Rawlins” at Elm and Crowdus streets.

“It’s an organic movement to clean up the tags and hopefully send out a message,” Hunter says. “Just leaving the tags on the artwork sends the message that it’s OK, and that they can keep doing it. They may re-tag, but I intend to repair.”

Graffiti is punishable by 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. In some cases – for example, if the marking is on a school, place of worship or human burial, public monument or community center – graffiti may even be considered a felony. It's also illegal according to a city ordinance, violation of which is punishable by a fine of $200-$500. The parent or guardian of a minor caught tagging could also be cited.

But some members of the community are taking matters into their own hands. Michelle Marie, who lives in the neighborhood, witnessed someone tagging Deep Ellum in broad daylight and decided to confront the culprit. “I followed him to Drugstore Cowboy where he proceeded to brag about tagging up the neighborhood," Marie says. "I asked him what his name was, [and] told him I have him on video and that I followed him from the scene. I told him if he cleaned it off, I wouldn't press charges.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new problem. Last summer Hunter repaired a Deep Ellum mural done by a Dallas Police Department officer. The mural had been tagged after the downtown Dallas police shooting that left five officers dead. “People would complain about the tagging, but the tags still remained. I just decided it was time to be proactive and cover it up," Hunter says. "The original artist was no longer in Dallas, but I rolled the dice and assumed she would be OK with illegal tags being removed from her mural.”

In regard to the Tuesday event, Hunter says he actually encourages artists to come out and clean up their own murals. “I haven’t asked for permission from any artists whose artwork has been tagged,” Hunter says. “I created the event in hopes of spurring on local artists to look after everyone’s art and remove the ugly tags. I don’t see a situation where an artist would complain about tags being removed from their artwork, so I will take that as it comes.”

If you see someone tagging property or want to report graffiti on your property, you can call 911 to report the crime. If you see graffiti in your neighborhood, you can report it to the Department of Code Compliance by either calling 311 or making a service request online. Senior Corporal Tramese D. Jones from Dallas police media relations says the Code Compliance Division will take “property-based” actions if called upon, but not “acts by a person.”

“In other words, code compliance does not enforce against the act of graffiti,” Jones says. “That is a crime that the police department handles. Code compliance abates graffiti with the property owner’s permission to remove or cover it. If the property owner wants to allow ‘legal’ graffiti to remain, they can, but if it is gang-related or obscene, the police department may have it removed or covered.”

According to the DPD website, “The Dallas Police Department is dedicated to the eradication of graffiti vandalism by pursuing prosecution of the suspects to the fullest extent of the law, as well as providing education and preventive programs though coordinated efforts of city agencies, business organizations and community groups.”

Deep Ellum Mural Restoration and Tag Removal Day, 12-7 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, Deep Ellum, see Facebook.
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Mollie Jamison is a freelance writer covering music and culture for the Dallas Observer. She studied journalism and political science at the University of North Texas. In her free time, you'll find her at contemporary art museums and karaoke joints.