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January 7, 2016
Oriental’s Town Board on Tuesday night put off action on a proposed graffiti ordinance that had been prompted by the two-and-a-half month old grafitti on the front of the Town-n-Country building. The Board voted 5-0 to table the proposal. Instead, the Board is waiting for Ruth Ireland to have the graffiti painted over by the end of January. The Board’s stance led John Cassillo to write. His letter brought in an alternative view:
The graffiti on the Town and Country store hurts our entire community. It impacts the real-estate prices in our town for resale of property, the current and future tourism to our town, and it also impacts our business owners. Graffiti projects an image of declining condition of a city or town. This is why so many towns spend time and money renewing these buildings or neighborhoods. It creates new businesses, creates employment, and positively influences further real estate development. This also helps a town grow in positive ways. Let’s face it – it is sad that the Town and Country store failed, but it was not just because of Wal-Mart. The store was in a state of disrepair and was not well-maintained. I dislike Wal-Mart also, but let’s not let this political statement cause a further decline in our community. Let’s plan for the future and help grow Oriental for the next generation.
I hope that the Town does not take the approach recommended by Mr. Cassillo.
His proposal is that the town police be empowered to decide what communications posted on a business owner’s property are “indecent and offensive” or “disorderly.” As Dave White wisely pointed out at the Town Meeting, some people think the art work on the Old Theatre is “offensive,” though I have not heard it said it is indecent. One could argue that in order to be forbidden, the message must be both “indecent and offensive.” Fortunately, we don’t have to get to that point because the Supreme Court recognizes that property owners have wide discretion to post or paint expressive material on their property. (I have been offended by public displays of the Confederate flag, which I think of as a symbol of racism and others think of as a historical relic. But none of us believes that the Town police should make a decision on that issue.)
I think also of recent political debates. These remind me that free speech is often offensive. In 1971, in Cohen v. California, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a young man who wore a jacket to court with the words “f*** the draft” on it. Except, he didn’t use asterisks. The Court’s opinion was by a notably conservative jurist, John Marshall Harlan.
My disagreement with Mr. Cassillo goes deeper, however. He is right that the deterioration of the central city is a major issue in America today. Among the major causes of that deterioration are the creation of strip malls and the activities of major retailers who build their stores and parking lots outside the city limits. Indeed, the Hunter College study that I cited before the Town Board when the Wal-Mart issues were being debated makes precisely that point.
Michael E. Tigar
I have been following with dismay the response, or lack of response, from the Town of Oriental to the graffiti that has covered the exterior walls of what used to be Town & Country. Let me begin by saying that my perspective on petty crime and vandalism has been formed by my time spent in law enforcement with the City of New York, as well as being an attorney in New York State, now retired.
I suspect many folks in Oriental would not agree with my assessment that graffiti is the first evidence of a deteriorating quality of life in a community. But then most folks in Oriental have not witnessed the fall of neighborhoods block by block, preceded by incidents of graffiti, broken windows, and abandoned stores. The cause and effect has been well established.
As demonstrated by your report on the commentary from board members at a recent meeting, I hear the familiar banter between community leaders over whether graffiti is vandalism if the owner does not object and whether legitimate artwork in the community could also be called graffiti.
I have seen many community leaders who lacked the will to address quality of life issues get stuck in the mud with these same questions. What is completely missed is that graffiti, a form of vandalism, has two victims; the property owner is obviously a victim because of the harm done to their physical structure, however, the citizenry is also a victim as a result of the offense against public decency and public order created by the offensive graffiti.
Here, any discussion over what is graffiti and who is the actual victim only serves to detract from the real issue which is who will remove the publicly offensive material that is detracting from Oriental’s quality of life.
From a legal stand point, any new town ordinance created to remedy the Town & Country graffiti problem would be at risk of being Ex Post Facto law, and its enforcement prohibited. Instead, why not use Oriental’s General Ordinance Chapter H, section 1- General “. . . . prohibits businesses to be kept in an indecent and offensive or disorderly manner.” This law is on the books and ready to be used now. Section 5 of the ordinance describes penalties, which includes what can only be described as “a good talkin to” for first offenders. I would recommend the board not wait till its February meeting to use it.
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