August 3, 2014 at 1:00 am

Column: Throw book at graffiti vandals

Mackenzie Snitgen, left, Esabella Meteer and Mary Harder are charged with destruction of property after Rock Ventures security equipment apparently caught them spray-painting pink XOs, random obscenities and 'Welcome to Detroit' on downtown buildings that share alley space with buildings owned by Dan Gilbert and partners. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)

Normally I’m not a lock-’em-up guy. But I do hope the three cute little suburban teens busted for spray painting graffiti on downtown Detroit buildings spend at least a little time wearing orange jumpsuits.

I hate graffiti and its impact on the city. The garish scrawlings that are becoming more prevalent on downtown walls and windows make it look as if nobody cares about Detroit and that you can get away with anyone here.

That’s clearly what these girls — two from the Grosse Pointes, one from Royal Oak and due in court Monday — thought when they packed their purses with spray paint cans and doodled silly hearts and “Welcome to Detroit” on two buildings at Michigan and Griswold.

The buildings are in an area targeted for renewal, and some exciting new restaurants have opened there recently that are beginning to draw more traffic. They’re also adjacent to property owned by Dan Gilbert, who is rehabbing much of downtown.

Gilbert hates graffiti, too. He sent out an email blast to the 12,500 employees of his Quicken Loans’ empire asking for help in tracking down the vandals. A scouring of video surveillance tapes led to the arrest of the girls.

The trio of would-be Banksies is charged with a felony and faces restitution costs of $1,000 to $20,000, as well as any additional punishment the court deems appropriate.

Because Gilbert is so powerful and the girls are so white and pretty, some of the social networks are playing this up as a case of the billionaire bully using his muscle to destroy harmless kids who just did something stupid.

That’s garbage. What do you think would happen if three black kids from Detroit took a joy ride out to Grosse Pointe and used the tony storefronts on the Hill as their canvas? The community would be mad as hell.

Those who work and live downtown should be angry, too. A lot of money and a lot of sweat are going into making downtown look respectable. Gilbert, certainly, has every right to be enraged at seeing buildings he’s bringing back from decades of neglect defaced by vandals.

From the RiverWalk to the graceful bridge across the freeway in Mexicantown, efforts to make the city look better so people feel better about being here are callously undone by narcissists who think the work isn’t finished until they leave their fluorescent mark on it.

Some of it stems from gangs tagging what they perceive as their territory. But a lot of the vandalism, particularly downtown, is traced to suburban brats who see Detroit as a playground and graffiti as a way to prove their urban bona fides.

Maybe they shouldn’t go to jail. It might be more effective to go out to their homes in Royal Oak and Grosse Pointe, give a case of spray paint to those who work or live in the area they marred, and let them go to town expressing themselves.

I wonder if their neighbors would appreciate the art in that graffiti?

Prosecutors should resist going easy on these girls. Graffiti damages the city’s self-worth and is a serious crime against the comeback of Detroit. It should be treated as such, no matter whose finger was on the paint nozzle.

nfinley@detroitnews.com
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