On my way to work on Friday, passing Southwark Crown Court, I saw a group of people protesting outside. I always love people protesting about something instead of just complaining or watching TV, so stopped to ask what it was about. They said that a friend of theirs had been convicted of graffiti and sentenced to two years in jail. I couldn’t believe it: two years, for some graffiti?
Now, as this disgustingly biased article makes clear, the graffiti was widespread, and carried out over a period of years, by a group of about 10 people called the DPM crew. But still, two years in jail? How absolutely ridiculous. Personally, I like graffiti, and as someone who has travelled quite frequently on the trains in southeast London allegedly “attacked” by the DPM crew, I would like to thank them wholeheartedly for making my commute just a little bit less soul-destroying. I think the people to blame for all these thousands of pounds of “damage” are the small-minded bureaucrats who spent all that money washing off or painting over artwork so that we respectable commuters could instead stare at blank concrete as our trains and our lives went nowhere. But even if you accept that graffiti is a crime and they should pay for it, fine. Two years in jail? That’s not paying. That’s ruining a young man’s life.
The people with the banner were hopeful of getting some good press coverage. I smiled and wished them well, but hated to tell them the truth: there are no real journalists any more. Twenty years ago a gnarled old court reporter might still have been hanging around and would have spoken to them. Today there are no court reporters (as Nick Davies valuably detailed in his recent book “Flat Earth News”). All of the crime stories are produced by wire services and rely heavily on the police to tell them what the news is. So all of the outlets that carried the story (most of the major newspapers had at least a small item on it) followed the same line: referring to the defendants not as people but only as “the vandals”, playing up the damage and its effects, and using utterly irresponsible quotes like the one from Detective Superintendent Michael Field calling it an “almost military style operation”. What is military about it? Were they carrying guns? Grenade launchers perhaps? Clearly Det Sup Field is not a military man, because if he was, he’d know that our brave boys in Iraq and Afghanistan are not spending their time spray-painting railway carriages. They’re killing people. That’s what the military does. To call a few graffiti artists military is irresponsible, as is calling it a conspiracy, etc. etc. It’s not Det Sup Field’s fault though – his job is to put out such nonsense. The fault lies with the journalist who faithfully wrote it down and printed the police line word for word. Stuff like this almost makes me want to go back to being a journalist again myself. Almost.
One question I’d like to ask: how much money did Det Sup Field waste mounting a seven month operation (Operation Shuttle) to catch a few harmless spray painters? How much money was then wasted putting them through the court process, and how much more will be wasted keeping these people in jail? And what happens when they come out? What will prison have done to them? What will the costs be? Sadly, the police and the smug establishment journalists don’t care. Vandals swept off the streets. Conspiracy ended. Railway carriages can now sleep safe in the knowledge that they will not have any creative works daubed on their crap paintwork. Job done.