Why Is Graffiti Illegal?

Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0

Graffiti is illegal because it is considered a form of vandalism or criminal mischief, according to Graffiti Hurts. Graffiti artwork is tagged on buildings without the owners’ permission, amounting to destruction of private property. Depending on the state and the severity of the crime, graffiti penalties include fines, cleanup costs, driving license suspension or felony conviction.

Widespread graffiti may diminish the appearance of a community and indicate a growing gang presence, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Gang members use graffiti tags to mark territorial lines and intimidate rival gangs. The LAPD recognizes graffiti is often created by young adults for non-gang-related reasons, ranging from social activism to civil disobedience.

Authorities are concerned that graffiti produces a negative image of the community. While many images are purely artistic, some graffiti contains profanity, advertises drug trafficking or expresses prejudiced ideals, Graffiti Hurts states.

The cost of repairing vandalized property also takes a financial toll on communities and local governments. Cities in California, Connecticut and other states have tried to implemented “free wall” programs to provide artists with legal areas to paint in hopes of reducing vandalism. Unfortunately, these initiatives can inadvertently attract more illegal activity to businesses surrounding free walls, says Graffiti Hurts.

The LAPD suggests combating illegal graffiti by starting beautification projects to improve local communications, such as planting flowers and organizing trash cleanups.