Graffiti means a lot of different things to different people and how it's used - or even its mere placement - brings out a wide variety of reactions from people.
Graffiti, at its core, is vandalism, since it involves defacing a public or private area without permission. The presence of graffiti marks an area as run-down and unkempt. The longer it stays on a surface, the further that image is embedded into the conscious of passersby.
In hotly-contested gang areas, it's a demarcation of territory to be respected on pain of conflict and possible death. Crossing out another gang's "tag" with your own is grounds for deadly retaliation.
Graffiti is also an art form, as evinced by the colorful, ingenious and expressive works found throughout countless urban environs. Some graffiti artists manage to gain national and global fanfare for their works. Kobra, Banksy and David Choe, for starters.
Graffiti is also a way for the traditionally voiceless to voice their opinions and vent. Whether it's frustration with law enforcement, an impromptu and brief eulogy for friends and family passed, or to reaffirm one's identity, it's often done with a can of spray paint and a fleeting moment.
If the graffiti happens to be of the sort the likes of Banksy would produce, it's often admired and photographed by passersby. Otherwise, it's often ignored until the property owner or another graffiti artist or tagger covers it up or tags over it.
Sometimes, the underlying dynamics surrounding graffiti and assumptions about those who are most likely to do it...makes people uncomfortable.
Grant Henry is an Atlanta-area artist and owner of Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium, a church-themed bar and lounge located in the Old Fourth Ward, not far from Ebenezer Baptist Church and The King Center.
Henry and a fellow patron at his bar covered up the above graffiti posted on a building located on the corner of Irwin and Randolph Street, after it had, in his words, "brought fear to the core of my being."
"Brought fear to the core of my being." As a gentleman of color, I pondered this statement. Exactly what does Grant Henry have to fear from a simple tag left behind by someone obviously affected by the outcome of the Zimmerman trial?
In Henry's own words:
Last night around 10:00pm I drove up Randolph and at the corner of Irwin saw the graffiti that brought fear to the core of my being, fear that riots could change the face of our neighborhood in the shadow of The Martin Luther King Center.
Many thoughts went through my head:
1: Who owns the building?
2. Could I be arrested for covering it up?
3. Is covering evil graffiti justified?
4. Should I call the city?
5. Should I get permission from someone?
Out of fear that this evil message would spread like wildfire, I got home and grabbed a can of black spray paint,went to CHURCH and grabbed a witness, then went back to the scene and painted over the graffiti.
I was running to my car after blacking out the hate...then bolted back to add the (heart symbol) to justify that my graffiti was not compounding the message of evil.
When the adrenaline ceased from the fear that I felt, I found out that at the exact moment of adding the (heart symbol), the Zimmerman NOT GUILTY Verdict was announced.
Whoever owns the building, i am willing to pay to have the wall painted over the graffiti.
I apologize to whomever, but I would probably do it again to try to nip danger in the bud and to ensure that the positive we are trying to build In our City is not lost to the ignorance of a few.
"The ignorance of a few."
In light of the turmoil and trauma surrounding the Zimmerman case, people have chosen to vent in their own ways, many of them extraordinarily productive, others in the most destructive way possible.
I don't condone graffiti done in public or private venues without permission. However, I do understand a person's need to vent, especially after an emotionally charged event like this. The individual who left the message "Fuck APD RIOT 4 TRAYVON" was venting.
With a bit of black paint, Mr. Henry, in effect, silenced that individual's voice.
That's what gets to me. The fact that someone's voice can be silenced wholesale by someone else who hasn't shared any of the trials, tribulations and experiences of that person, after invoking an international black icon for peace and equality to justify his own actions, gets to me.
Black voices are constantly silenced, muffled, moderated and curated by others who simply don't feel comfortable with these voices ringing loud and unfiltered. Apparently, Mr. Henry just didn't feel comfortable with that so-called "message of evil" being left behind in his neighborhood.
I'm sure like so many others in his position, Mr. Henry's intentions were rather noble. While many of history's major issues are resolved through the hot fires of violence, many of history's issues have also been settled through peaceful means. Many people have clutched their pearls over the possibility of violent riots, but people who chose to stand in solidarity with Trayvon Martin and others like him have chosen the route of peaceful protest. I'm sure Mr. Henry did not want to see the Old Fourth Ward or any other neighborhood die in the white-hot fires of anger, frustration, misplaced vengeance and hatred.
With that said, that doesn't justify speaking for another by censoring that person's message. In fact, the only "message of evil" I see is one consisting of three black bars...and a heart symbol. I'm not feeling the love, here.