The Notorious I.N.G. sent me this article from the New York Times. Article mirrored below:
“In San Francisco, a Plague of Stickers Opens a New Front in the Graffiti War
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 16 — One of the most wanted men in San Francisco — if he is a man — has no known name, no known mug shot and one very efficient sticker machine.
Officer Christopher Putz of the San Francisco Police Department’s graffiti unit inspected a wall that had been painted clean two weeks earlier.
For several months, the police say, someone has been plastering the city’s walls, public phones and newspaper boxes with postcard-size stickers reading “BNE” in big black letters. Sometimes the stickers also have Japanese script that translates to “visit” or “come to.”
All of which makes for an amusing curiosity for pedestrians, but it has left city officials quite unhappy. In mid-July, Mayor Gavin Newsom offered a $2,500 reward for the capture of “BNE,” calling the stickers “large, unsightly, confusing and utterly inappropriate.” It is the first time the city has offered a cash reward in a graffiti case, a move that Mr. Newsom said was necessary to stop the “repetitive malicious mischief.”
The city attorney, Dennis J. Herrera, said San Francisco was suffering from a “growing epidemic of graffiti tagging” and other vandalism that dirties city streets.
“The fact of the matter is that it exacts a toll from neighborhoods in a variety of ways,” Mr. Herrera said. “It’s not just in monetary values, for cleanup, but it also degrades the quality of life for people that live there.”
Just days after Mr. Newsom established the reward, Mr. Herrera announced a $20,000 civil judgment against Carlos Romero, 20, who had been “tagging” with abandon in the western part of the city using a variety of aliases, including “Lafer,” “Coma,” “Queso” and “Cream.”
As part of the judgment, Mr. Romero was ordered to stay away from spray paint and indelible markers and received a curfew of 11 p.m.. He was also instructed to record a public service announcement for radio.
“This is a message that if you’re going out to tag, if we catch you, there’s going to be a stiff price to pay,” Mr. Herrera said.
But while Mr. Romero prepares to head to the studio, “BNE” remains at large, a fact that no doubt wears on Officer Christopher Putz, who oversees the San Francisco Police Department’s two-person graffiti abatement unit. Officer Putz, who has been on the graffiti beat since 2001, takes his work seriously; he will not allow his face to be photographed and he gives his age merely as “in my 30’s,” for fear of tipping his hand. “It’s a chess game,” he said.
The battle between graffiti supporters (who call it art) and detractors (who call it vandalism) dates back decades and spans the globe. The authorities in New York — where artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat worked the same streets as those painting walls with sobriquets like Taki, Revs/Cost and MQ — have long struggled with graffiti, and continue to. A 2005 antigraffiti law is being held up in court while a federal judge considers a ban on the sale of paint and indelible markers to anyone under 21.
Officer Putz says San Francisco has also always had a place in the graffiti underworld, in part because landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge tempt graffiti glory-seekers. “Who wants to tag some Podunk town no one has ever heard of?” he said.
Experts say the city’s enforcement efforts and economic success have dimmed graffiti’s appeal in recent years.
“In the mid-1990’s, San Francisco was one of the best cities in the world,” said Shepard Fairey, who became known in the 1990’s for his “Obey, Giant” stickers, which depicted the face of the wrestler Andre the Giant. “They weren’t cleaning things very quickly, so things would stay up a long time. A lot of writers from New York and L.A. were doing things there. But then the dot-com thing came, and the rich people came, and it got really clean.”
But “BNE” and the reward have drawn attention back to San Francisco, said Hugo Martinez, an art dealer in New York who represents a stable of veteran and up-and-coming graffiti practitioners.
“Whenever the mayor starts to get involved in a swingfest, the masses are going to come out,” Mr. Martinez said. “And he couldn’t do anything better for the graffiti writer’s career than to do this.”
Officer Putz will not say whether he knows who “BNE” is or what the initials stand for, but the mystery is a source of avid speculation on the Internet, where some have speculated that it means “Be Nowhere Else,” “Breaking ’N’ Entering” or even “Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.”
Officer Putz, who has been on the beat since 2001, keeps supplies for removing graffiti in his patrol vehicle. “It’s a chess game,” he said.
Variations on President Bush’s name are also popular: “Bush Not Elected,” for example. One blogger said “BNE” was the code for the airport in Brisbane, Australia, and posited that the stickers, along with the Japanese script, were a campaign announcing flights from there to Japan.
Most, however, doubt that “BNE” is an advertisement, and instead think it might be the work of a graffiti artist who goes by the name of Benet and whose graffiti spelling out his name in large block letters have been seen in San Francisco. Officer Putz would not confirm whether Benet — whose real name is not known — was a suspect, but did say, “There’s only a handful of people who have any real skill.”
In recent years, other California cities, including San Jose and Los Angeles, have increased efforts against graffiti, which some authorities say has ties to gang behavior and can be a gateway to more serious crime. “There is absolutely no doubt there’s a link between graffiti activity and more serious criminal activity,” Mr. Herrera said.
Mr. Fairey says politicians have long used the cleanup of graffiti as a way to score quality-of-life points with voters. “It’s cosmetic and superficial,” he said. “It’s a perfect metaphor for politics in general.”
But he agrees that enforcement efforts have gotten tougher. “I used to put posters up in L.A., and they’d stay up for six months,” said Mr. Fairey, 36, who runs a successful design firm in Los Angeles. “Now they stay up for three days.”
Mr. Martinez says he believes he knows who “BNE” is and thinks he is currently in Tokyo planning his next move. The “BNE” stickers have also been seen in New York and Tokyo.
“Word is,” Mr. Martinez wrote in an e-mail message, “this guy may be the first writer to go ‘all world’ vs. ‘all city.’ ”
For his part, Officer Putz, who says he actually enjoys looking at the graffiti, says he just wants “BNE” and other graffitists to stay away from San Francisco.
“We want the law-abiding tourists,” he said. “We don’t want the traveling vandals.” “