Duggan defends city’s prosecution of graffiti vandals

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday defended the city’s action against a world-renowned artist — and others — accused of tagging Detroit buildings without permission.

Graffitti art by Shepard Fairey on the side of a vacant building on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit.

Shepard Fairey was arraigned in Detroit District Court this week on destruction of property charges. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and fines.

The prominent artist’s arrest has ignited debate over why police and city officials are dedicating resources to pursuing graffiti violators in a city with the highest violent crime rate in the nation.

Police have countered that cracking down on the seemingly low-level violators can improve the life of residents and prevent more serious crimes.

Duggan told reporters during an event near Detroit’s riverfront on Thursday that the city has made multiple arrests and issued hundreds of tickets to individuals caught spray-painting the city.

“I have yet to hear one of those critics post their own address so people can come spray paint up their houses,” the mayor remarked in reference to critics. “But the fact is, when you come into our city and spray paint buildings we’re going to arrest you and we’re going to prosecute you.”

Shepard Fairey

Fairey had been hired to put up a 184-foot-tall mural on the east side of 1 Campus Martius, formerly known as the Compuware building, owned by downtown building magnate Dan Gilbert. He also legally put art on a large billboard on East Grand River, a water tower bearing the artist’s trademark “Obey” logo and several temporary murals.

But he’s accused of also affixing his trademark stickers onto 14 other properties without the owners’ permission, police say.

Duggan has long taken a hard line against graffiti violators, during his mayoral tenure and as Wayne County prosecutor.

“If you dump illegally or you move into a house as a squatter, the city is going to address those quality of life issues strongly,” Duggan said Thursday. “It’s a different day.”