There were two things that made many conservatives extremely unhappy during last weekend’s anti-Bush protest in Washington. The first was the appearance of Jane Fonda – Hanoi Jane – and her declaration that after 30 years of silence, she simply had to come out of “retirement” to help end the debacle in Iraq. The second occurrence was the spray painting of the Capitol steps with graffiti by a group of vandals/demonstrators.

The spray painting incident was further magnified by the fact that no attempt was made to stop or arrest the vandals. Capitol police officers were said to be livid when they were told not to interfere by two Capitol chiefs of police, Phillip Morse and Daniel Nichols. As a result, some 300 protesters were allowed to take the steps and then spray paint them with obscene words and anarchist symbols.

Chief Morse seemed pleased with himself in that “efforts to rush the doors of the Capitol were thwarted,” and the graffiti was subsequently removed by volunteers from the Architect of the Capitol staff. However, news film of the steps after the graffiti was “easily removed” still showed some discoloration and stains.

Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado has demanded a meeting with Morse to determine why his officers were ordered not to interfere, even though they wanted to detain individuals and perhaps force them to remove the paint while under arrest, rather than have it done by Capitol staff on their day off. While the crowd was ostensibly exercising its First Amendment rights, the amendment does not allow protesters to damage government property, whatever the protesters’ cause.

In a larger sense, graffiti costs building managers and property owners millions of dollars a year. In many cases graffiti is gang-related, with many of the spray painters leaving the “signature” of the gang or communicating in code between gang members. And not only are building owners forced to pay the cost of removing graffiti – if indeed the damage can be undone – the owners are often compelled by city ordinances to do so within a few days or else face fines and other penalties. Thus, the victim of the crime becomes liable to do penance for it.

Removing graffiti has become a cottage industry in many cities. One firm in Vancouver, Canada receives thousands of inquiries a year and is paid handsomely by the property managers for the service. To add insult to injury, the same property owners often see art students on field trips, their instructor pointing out the “artistic” values of the “tagging” as it’s called.

Some local governments have sought to make it a crime to purchase multiple cans of spray paint. But often several graffiti vandals will purchase only a single can each. And, of course, there’s always the Internet. One cyberspace firm has even chosen the name “On the Run,” a not-too-subtle hint of what the pressure cans of paint might be used for.

The message from the demonstrations of last Saturday is fairly straightforward: the physical destruction of taxpayer property is acceptable. It’s your tax dollars folks. So where’s the outrage? Yaaaaaaaawn.

– Chase.Hamil

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