Photo by John Wilcox
Roll model: Steve Martin of Graffiti Busters works to remove some unwanted tags on Grove Street last week. City councilor Rob Consalvo is hoping to pass a bill that would apply hefty fines for tagging the hub with gang symbols.
Gangbangers could get two years in jail, pay hefty fines and even lose their driver's licenses for leaving graffiti tags under a proposal the City Council takes up Thursday.
Massachusetts already has laws against graffiti, but Councilor Rob Consalvo, who wrote the bill, said he's going after gang tags because of their sinister purpose.
"Gang tags are meant to threaten and intimidate, mark territory and send threatening messages to witnesses," Consalvo said.
The measure, which has the backing of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, mirrors laws passed in Las Vegas, Seattle and California.
In addition to possible jail time, gang members would pay a $2,000 fine for the first conviction, $3,000 for the second and $4,000 for each additional conviction.
Consalvo would leave it to police to decide whether graffiti is a gang tag.
Scofflaws would have to pay back the city for cleaning up their mess, and judges would lose their discretion over whether to fine gang members or require restitution.
Gang taggers would also lose their driver's licenses for two years and complete 200 hours of community service.
"It forces those who have a negative effect on the community to give back," Consalvo said.
Graffiti Busters, the city's graffiti removal initiative, has removed 954 graffiti images so far this year.
Boston Detective Billy Kelley, who's tracked gang members for more than 13 years, estimates 10 percent are gang-related.
Kelley said the scourge of gang tagging strikes fear into law-abiding citizens.
"People see it and get scared," he said.
Gangbangers may live outside of the law, but Mattapan community activist Bobby Jenkins said they'd find the harsh fines convincing.
"This would make kids stop and think if they should do this," Jenkins said. "Right now, there's no consequence."
After getting city approval, Consalvo's bill must pass the Legislature before its session ends in December. Consalvo is confident the Legislature won't drop the ball.
"This is a no-brainer," Consalvo said. "If they want to pass it, they'll pass it."