Tagging a City’s Identity

Alexei Koseff (Monterey County Weekly) |  July 28, 2011

Hideous. Modern art. Criminal. Free expression.

Graffiti can inspire strong, divided reactions within a community, leading to disagreements over what it is, whether it has purpose, and what to do about it.

For recent CSU Monterey Bay grad Scott Lydon, it was initially a way to understand the increasing prevalence of gang-related homicides in Salinas. After the March 2010 death of a 6-year-old boy from a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting, he was struck by a desire to get involved in anti-gang efforts.

“I was very upset to see this happen, especially after I had seen violence up close and personal on two deployments to the Middle East,” Lydon says. “I wanted to learn as much as I could to somehow address the issue.”

Under the guidance of mentor Dr. Ruben Mendoza, a professor of Social, Behavioral and Global Studies, Lydon’s concern evolved into an honors thesis. Influenced by Mendoza’s work researching the symbolism and territoriality of gang graffiti in other U.S. cities such as El Paso, Texas, and Tucson, Ariz. – and inspired by his own experience with geographic information system mapping while working as a radar technician in the Navy – Lydon decided to examine the graffiti in Salinas. He teamed up with David Sosa, another CSUMB senior, to work on a year-long honors Capstone Project through the archaeology department.

For the first few months, they went out every Sunday to take pictures of graffiti for later analysis – over 500 in all, concentrating on the areas around the five most recent homicide locations.

But what they found soon steered the project in a new direction: Most of the graffiti they were coming across was not actually done by gang members. Investigation into one ambiguous symbol – a red TNG – led them to 12ozProphet, an online forum where users can share and discuss their graffiti. There they discovered “tagging crews,” groups of graffiti writers that regard what they do as street art, rather than a way to mark territory. When Lydon and Sosa eventually encountered one such crew in the field, it turned out to be just a couple of bored teenagers.

Less than 5 percent of the graffiti Lydon and Sosa mapped showed gang connections.

Read more at: http://www.montereycountyweekly.com/news/2011/jul/28/tagging-citys-identity/

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