San Francisco’s underground graffiti scene is usually appreciated, with art galleries and local publications showing respect. But not everyone loves a tag, particularly when it ends up on their home or storefront. In recent years, some artists’ work has become overly prevalent, such as the large-scale sketch of Bart Simpson with a four on his forehead, which even today can be spotted on walls, Muni shelters, and sidewalks around town. When a tag gets that big, the artist best watch out, because SFPD is on the prowl.
On Tuesday, District Attorney George Gascón announced that seven artists have been charged with tagging small businesses and recreational spaces. Chief among them is Tyler Ross, 27, who’s behind the Bart4 pieces. He was arrested in March after an Instagram-savvy follower recognized the location of his livestream and called the cops, and Ross now faces 29 felony charges of vandalism.
Second in line in terms of activity is Jorge Luis Coya, whose tag KRK (or Kick Rocks) is easily recognizable. In an interview with Bombing Science earlier this year, Coya says he grew up in Miami and joined the skate scene when he moved to San Francisco in 2000.
“The definition of graffiti are writing or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or painted illicitly on a wall or other surface, often within public view. Most of the time without permission,” he said. “That is graffiti. If it has permission, in my eyes it’s art.”
Also facing charges are 24-year-old Omar Clerkin, known as “Yeska,” 25-year-old Carlos Cruz aka “Orrible,”; and Avery Sizelove, aka “Every,” 23.
“We’re working closely with the police department to identify and hold accountable the most prolific vandals, who cost the city over $20 million per year,” Gascón says. “Individuals like these are behind the city’s property crime challenge. By tying them to multiple incidents, we can ensure they face consequences equal to their impact on our community.”
For small business owners — particularly in Chinatown, where much of the tagging takes place — these arrests and charges are a good thing. It costs an estimated $3,370 to remove a graffiti tag, and the city fines business owners who don’t comply.
“Graffiti has always been a problem in Chinatown. They for some reason always pick on us,” Eva Lee, the head of the Chinatown Merchants Association, said on Tuesday, as she expressed her gratitude to SFPD.
Although this large roundup makes the effort to bust such offenders appear easy, it was a collaborative effort.
“This was not a simple piece of work, this took a lot of work and dogged determination to find all the pieces that came together,” Gascón says.
Officers scoured a plethora of surveillance camera footage from around Union Square, and Gang Task Force Officer Martin Ferreira became intimately familiar with the taggers’ work and patterns.
In the end, SFPD feels they’ve done the community a service.
“We often focus on the violent crime that we see in the city, and property crime doesn’t always get the attention it deserves,” says Commander Greg McEachern. “To say that this is not a problem would be a complete understatement. For us to make arrests and to go to a grand jury sends a clear message to these offenders that we are going to make sure justice is done. We also want to hit them in the pocketbook with civil penalties. We want to do everything we can to clean up this mess, and send the message that no matter what the crime is, we’re going to go aggressively after it.”