Tagging: He Couldn't Take It Anymore

B. R. Chavez is hardly the first person to be offended by graffiti. But his courageous response to increasingly brazen acts of vandalism puts him in the company of a growing number of citizens determined to stop tagging of public--and, now often, private--property with spray paint and markers.

The 77-year-old Chavez boarded a bus recently in the San Fernando Valley and saw two teen-age passengers marking the inside of the vehicle. When he asked the boys what they were doing, they sneered at him, mumbled something and returned to their work. Chavez, noticing a police car ahead, asked the bus driver to stop and announced that he was making a citizen's arrest.

The police found the markers on the boys and formalized the arrests. One of the youths has pleaded no contest to vandalism and has been sentenced to three days in jail, 30 days of graffiti removal and two years of probation. The second, 15, was released to his parents.

"I remember how the buses used to look in the morning, all clean and nice," Chavez said. "Now it's just terrible. . . . I can't stand it."

Neither can many others. Southland communities are mobilizing against the graffiti explosion. Angry residents are trying to catch taggers by using video cameras, volunteer patrols and local ordinances that bar youths from carrying markers and other graffiti paraphernalia in public places. More taggers are being caught in the act and ordered to clean up the mess they've made. Perhaps they will also begin to think, long and hard, before they tag again.

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