Art or vandalism?

WAILUA — Sometime last week, someone spray-painted the word “Halo,” as large as a truck, on the inner rockwall of Wailua River Bridge, the southbound structure of Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste Memorial Bridge Complex.

“We are always discouraged when property is defaced in this way,” Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said in a email. “We would hope that our residents would feel a greater responsibility for public property — as graffiti only results in time and money spent on cleanup.”

Art to some, vandalism to others and counter-culture to many, graffiti gained a higher artistic status in the late 1970s and early 1980s, after leaping from the New York subway system to Big Apple’s art galleries, specially through the art of the late Jean Michel Basquiat.

New York’s graffiti style quickly spread to the rest of the world, finding a niche in South America, more exactly in Brazil, where music and art were the main weapon against the military dictatorship there, which ended in 1985. Today, the Brazilian city of São Paulo is considered a hub for graffiti art worldwide.

Caroline Sluyter, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, said the Kaua‘i Highways Division of the DOT doesn’t get a lot of graffiti.

“When we do, we clean the area and paint over it,” said Sluyter, adding that there wasn’t a cost estimate yet for the graffiti on the Wailua River Bridge rockwall.

Regardless of how graffiti is perceived, under the Hawai‘i Revised Status it is a crime that could result in much more than simple cleanup for the offender. HRS describes graffiti as “unauthorized drawing, inscription, figure or mark of any type intentionally created by paint, ink, chalk, dye or similar substances.”

Staff at the Office of the County Attorney said that it appears the graffiti at Wailua River Bridge is potentially a criminal property damage case.

“Depending upon the ‘value’ of the damage caused, the offense could range from a Class ‘C’ felony, a full misdemeanor or a petty misdemeanor,” said the staff at OCA, noting that the maximum offense for a Class ‘C’ felony is five years in jail and a $10,000 fine. A full misdemeanor is punishable with one year in jail and a $2,000 fine, and a petty misdemeanor could result in 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

But under the HRS 708-823.6, there could be additional penalties for those convicted of graffiti. Whenever someone is found guilty of criminal property damage caused by graffiti, under the HRS, the person shall be required to:

“(a) Remove the graffiti from the damaged property within 30 days of sentencing, if it has not already been removed and where consent from the respective property owner or owners has been obtained; and

“(b) For a period of time not to exceed two years from the date of sentencing, along with any other person or persons who may be sentenced under this section for the same property, perform community service removing, within 14 days, any graffiti applied to other property within 250 yards of the site of the offense for which the person was sentenced, where consent from the respective property owner or owners has been obtained, even if the property was damaged by another person; provided that removal of graffiti shall not place the person or others in physical danger nor inconvenience the public.

“(2) In lieu of performing graffiti removal pursuant to subsection (1), the court may require a person to perform 100 hours of community service if the government agency that is responsible for supervising the graffiti removal lacks the necessary resources to ensure the person’s compliance with subsection.”

County officials asked for anyone with information on the graffiti to call police dispatch at 241-1711.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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