To the editors:

Bonnie McGrath’s recent article (December 7, 1990) romanticizing graffiti artist Erik DeBat has enraged more than a few of his neighbors in Roscoe Village.

For a number of years we have been fighting a daily battle against the defacement of our homes and businesses caused by taggers, gangbangers, and graffiti “artists.” McGrath’s adoring profile has only made the problem more difficult to solve.

McGrath characterizes the 1988 graffiti crackdowns as police “harassment.” DeBat and his friends apparently feel no remorse for their harassment of the property owners whose buildings they’ve damaged, yet McGrath implies that DeBat is a misunderstood victim of “cop” injustice. Enforcement of the laws which are designed to protect citizens against acts of vandalism and property damage is hardly harassment.

And where was the parental guidance whose real responsibility it is to help prevent such acts of vandalism? Apparently aware of DeBat’s activities, (“My dad was sick of hearing stories of illegal murals”), but delinquent in exercising any influence until the police got involved, which McGrath characterizes as ” . . . threatening phone calls to the DeBat family.” Since when is the attempt to involve a juvenile criminal’s family in stopping criminal activity threatening?

DeBat claims there is a fine line between vandalism and graffiti art. This line exists only in his mind. When DeBat defaces a home in the dark hours of the night, he has not created art; he has criminally violated a neighbor’s property. He has broken the law. This is vandalism, nothing more, nothing less. Just to help him clarify the difference, he might consider how he would react if someone tagged a few of his $1000 canvasses.

McGrath writes about the rush taggers feel when they see their scrawls throughout the city. Our guess is their rush comes more from getting away with something illegal than from the joy of creating art. How unfortunate for the taggers, even people of such obvious artistic talent as DeBat, that they use primarily destructive ways to express themselves. How unfortunate for McGrath and her readers that she can’t tell the difference between criminal and artistic behaviour. And how unfortunate for us that we, like the dog owner in the park, are obliged to clean up the mess that DeBat and his friends have left behind.

Names withheld by request

Bonnie McGrath replies:

I don’t think my profile of Erik DeBat was romantic and adoring. I simply told the story of a young man’s jump from petty adolescent crime to productive work. I admit to having had a particularly warm feeling toward the DeBat family during the preparation of this article; that’s because I know how hard it is to “guide” children. I think the help Don DeBat gave his son (so the police wouldn’t hurt him) by encouraging contact with interior designers was a smart way to point him in the right direction. DeBat is very proud of his son–and he should be. The story of a bad boy gone straight–with the help of his father–is a positive one. (And since DeBat canvases are now going for upward of a grand, you and your neighbors might experience an increase in your property values–and have some pretty valuable garage doors on your hands.)