The tag is one that's been showing up in Northwest Portland for months now. According to Joe Savage, the police officer working on the ADK case, police recorded 144 different instances of the tag on July first alone. It's sloppily painted everywhere--on stop signs, on the side of the Northwest Fred Meyer, on the benches in the park. It's become so common that Allan Classen, editor and publisher of the Northwest Examiner , decided to take action against the taggers. Even though the tag has not shown up on his business, Classen decided to offer a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for the tagging; Vera Katz contributed $100 to the fund.
There's some controversy about who's doing the painting. Classen claims it's a nationally known tag, which stands for "all day killers," but police and local taggers say it's just a local crew marking their territory. So far, according to Classen, they've received two leading phone calls; one from a co-worker of a tagger, and one from a friend and fellow graffiti writer. Savage confirmed that police are investigating four people right now, and two of them have significant criminal histories involving graffiti. Because of their histories, Savage explains, he anticipates that, once processed, these two taggers could serve up to six months.
Despite these promising leads, however, the bounty has done little to deter the taggers. Since the offer was made, Classen admits, the tag has only shown up more around town.
This doesn't bother Classen too much, though; eliminating the tag isn't his only objective. "Graffiti and tagging is kind of a contest for who controls civil society," says Classen. "And there's this myth about graffiti--that it's something honorable, that it's made up by a group of people who would stand up for each other, that are driven by something primal." Classen hopes, by offering a reward, to prove this "myth" untrue. "We have another idea," he explains, "that this 'cohesion' and sense of honor will actually crack for a few bucks." Essentially, by offering a reward, Classen hopes to convince Portland taggers to sell each other out--and prove their lack of integrity.
To actual taggers, though, Classen's challenge seems like a strange joke. "The graffiti community, just like any community, has assholes in it," says John (not his real name), who has been in Portland's graffiti circle for more than five years. "Especially when you catch younger kids--14-year-old, 15-year-old kids. When police use scare tactics, those kids can get really intimidated." But John insists that, despite a few individuals, graffiti writers will remain loyal. "If somebody does narc someone out, they basically become a marked man. It's a big, big breach of unwritten code. That's the worst offense in the graffiti community."
John also believes the Examiner's actions are naive. "First of all, putting a bounty on graffiti is going to encourage people to do graffiti," John explained. Since part of the objective in tagging is to have the tag seen, calling attention to it is only going to please the taggers. "Also, the Examiner is creating a pretty dangerous situation," said John. "If the police convince someone to narc, that person could very easily get the shit beat out of him."
John is convinced that, in general, Portland politicians and officials are going about graffiti removal in a backward way. "Take two 16-year-old kids: One plays tennis, the other wants to write on walls," John says. "There's obviously something really different with the kids who wants to write on walls, something driving them to do that, and I don't think Vera Katz has any idea what that is," he said. "Everyone wants to get rid of the graffiti so badly, they kind of have the same attitude as the taggers--this angry energy, this need to prove themselves. It's very strange."