Socialist Worker

No more deaths on the tracks—why graffiti must be decriminalised

Graffiti writer A Dee spoke to Socialist Worker about the recent deaths of artists Trip, Lover, and KBag and what they show about the state’s policy

Issue No. 2612

Tributes to Trip, Lover and KBag in Stockwell, south London

Tributes to Trip, Lover and KBag in Stockwell, south London (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Three graffiti artists were killed on rail tracks at Loughborough Junction in south London in the early hours of 19 June.

Dozens of tributes were sprayed beside train tracks, on trains and walls after the deaths of Trip, Lover and KBag.

Their deaths have been quickly forgotten by the mainstream press, but they raise serious questions about the way people who commit non-violent “crimes” are treated.

South London graffiti artist Artful Dodger (A Dee) put the deaths, and the state’s response to them, in context. “We live in a country which puts property and profit above the value of human life,” he told Socialist Worker.

“If you kill someone through drink driving, chances are you’ll get a lesser, or suspended sentence.”

By contrast, those caught painting trains have the book thrown at them. Custodial sentences are common.

The Tory former Transport for London (TfL) chairperson Brian Cooke was in no doubt. Almost immediately after the tragedy he branded the dead as “scum”.

“Why do BBC News keep referring to the guys killed at Loughborough Junction as graffiti ‘artists’.” he tweeted. “They are no such thing they are common scum.”

A Dee’s tribute to the three writers attacked Cooke (see below right).

“There’s almost no chance of graffiti becoming legal because it’s about the state having control,” he said. “Graffiti can’t be easily sanitised or brought under control so it will remain illegal.”

A Dee’s depiction of Tory Brian Cooke

A Dee’s depiction of Tory Brian Cooke (Pic: Guy Smallman)

A Dee was critical of some of those who produce street art, as opposed to graffiti writers such as those who died.“If you look back to the 1960s and 70s there was a lot more of a social focus,” he said.

“You could say street art was more political then,” he argued, making the point that art reflects the society it is produced in.

“Now there’s more of a sense that people are doing street art in order to be seen as edgy artists—almost like a career choice.”

A Dee criticised artists like Banksy who are self-referential and poke fun, but have been accepted by the art world.

Brian Cooke was the extreme end of a drive to portray the dead writers as criminals.

By focusing on old arguments about why graffiti should be illegal, the goalposts were moved by those who wanted to avoid wider questions about society.

At the more subtle end of that argument came TfL director of compliance Steve Burton

“Graffiti results in trains being taken out of service, causing delays to our customers and costing TfL thousands of pounds to remove,” he said.

It’s a common argument that people would rather see large, colourful pieces rather than tags and chrome “throw ups”.

But writers do not have the opportunity to become better in expensive isolated studio space, and are forced to develop in public spaces.

To say, “Some, but not all” graffiti is fine essentially gives an amount of control to the state to decide what should stay and what should be removed. Or who should be prosecuted and who should be feted.

A Dee suggested that there could be referenda or polls on graffiti polices.

He said, “TfL say they care about what transport users think—why not ask them?”

And why should it be removed if it is not offensive? Graffiti should be decriminalised.

A tribute to the victims of the Grenfell fire

A tribute to the victims of the Grenfell fire (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Graffiti writers organised commemorative graffiti gatherings to coincide with the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower block fire on 14 June.

Famous London graffiti writers such as Mr Met and Zomb have painted pieces at the foot of nearby Trellick Tower.

Others have paid their respect with pieces at the Stockwell Hall of Fame in south London (pictured above). Go to see the touching tributes before they are painted over.

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