It’s late Friday afternoon and the sun hasn’t been out all week. I’m feeling poopy. Could that be why Mickey Conroy’s idea about paddling graffiti vandals doesn’t sound like a bad one to me?
Conroy, the esteemed assemblyman from Orange, is on to something, but even he shrinks in the face of a good idea. I’ll do him the unsolicited favor of arguing his case for him and, even more graciously, attaching an amendment.
Resolved, that the state sanction the paddling of convicted spray-painters. Uncivilized? Let’s not kid ourselves. My fellow Americans, we’re a country that went kicking and screaming just to ban assault weapons for private use. We’re a country overwhelmingly in favor of killing people for capital crimes, even if it takes 15 years to get it done. We go to sleep at night as the state sends thousands of volts through people in the electric chair.
Surely, we can incorporate into that mind-set a few whacks on the fanny. The only proviso should be that the person is physically sound enough to handle the paddling. If they’re able, they can be caned.
Most of us of a certain age can remember when public school administrators were allowed to paddle our behinds. Catholic school kids remember getting their knuckles rapped with Sister Elizabeth’s ruler.
If corporal punishment in schools was leading us down the path to barbarism, then abolishing it should have played some role in making us less violent.
However, let me hasten to say I oppose corporal punishment in the schools. For one thing, it would put too many school principals in peril from avenging students who now pack guns. I doubt you’d find too many principals who’d want to risk getting shot over a paddling. Giving out suspensions is risk free; most of the violators probably welcome them.
So, forget the schools. But what about the criminal justice system? And for a crime as demoralizing to the larger society as graffiti vandalism? Why blanch at that?
Vandals never expect to get caught in the first place, and many spray-painters are driven by their twisted sense of turf wars to mark their territory. Add to that their near-certainty they won’t pay a penalty for getting caught, and the rest of us are pretty much at their mercy.
A city attorney in Orange County told me that most youngsters brought up on graffiti violations today probably get probation. That sounds to me like they get one free crime. I’ll give them a free crime if it’s shoplifting bubble gum from a candy store. But defacing entire buildings or highway signs? Sorry, Charlie; bend over.
So, we must inject some punishment into the equation. Vandals shouldn’t be taking up jail space. This isn’t a crime that deserves incarceration; however, because defacing property is particularly obnoxious and arrogant, we should fashion a punishment designed to cut the perpetrators down to size.
Precisely where a public spanking fits in. Graffiti, more than most, is a crime against all of us, because we’re all forced to see the results of it. Just as the sunset soothes us, junk graffiti riles us. This is not a victimless crime. We’re all victims, and we should all have the chance to smirk at the little twerp who uglied up our town.
The public - humiliation aspect is critical. The psyche of the vandals is that they’re putting something over on the rest of us. A few quick pfft-pfft-pffts from the paint can and they’ve defaced another bridge abutment. The cruelest punishment for someone like that is to be embarrassed in public. What better way to embarrass them than to de-pant them and redden their cheeks with a few whacks? They like color; we’ll give them some color.
Public paddling may not stop graffiti wars, but it would sure make the rest of us feel better when we did catch one of them. It would send a loud signal that the public isn’t helpless and that, every so often, we’ll get the last laugh.
Now, for the much-needed amendment.
If paddling is such a good idea, Mr. Conroy--and it is--why limit it to juvenile graffiti sprayers? If your goal is to punish, to deter and to embarrass wrongdoers, why not do it to adults too?
If a spanking would deter a 14-year-old, imagine what it might have done to some of your colleagues in the Legislature who have moved on to houses of detention for various affronts against the public?
Off the top of my head, I can think of a few people in Orange County who have ripped off citizens in ways that spray-painters couldn’t dream of. Yes, the violators have gone off to prison, but why not a few sturdy lashes in the town square before they hit the road to Lompoc?
Believe me, Mr. Conroy, the public would love my amendment.
So, yes, proceed with the paddling proposal, but don’t limit yourself.
Yes, we’re sick and tired of graffiti masters. But we’re sick and tired of lots of other people, too.
Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.