Graffiti Artist Hit with Unusual Jail Sentence

Filed in Local News by on October 1, 2009 2 Comments

Danielle Bremer, the graffiti artist formerly known as ‘Utah,’ has achieved a level of notoriety all aerosol vandals dream of, though not in the way she would have liked.

That’s because earlier today, Bremer was sentenced to six months in prison for spray painting her moniker in the Back Bay a few years ago. The sentence also carries a five year probation period, a mandatory mental health evaluation, and a fine, the amount of which will be determined at a hearing December 15.

The case is unusual in that jail terms for such petty vandalism are extremely rare. In most cases, defendants are fined, forced to pay for restitution for damages, or placed on probation. The theory goes that stiff monetary penalties serve as an effective deterrent for would-be taggers, and that further punishment is unnecessary.

Wall Graffiti

In Bremer’s case, the damage was reportedly so extensive—the Boston Globe,  estimates the cost in the tens of thousands—that prosecutors sought the rare punishment of prison time.

Without delving into the massive question of whether graffiti is a legitimate art form or merely a crime, Bremer’s case raises a number of thorny issues, foremost among them being the use of incarceration rather than restitution for such a passive crime. Though many people consider them a nuisance, graffiti writers are not a threat to the public; painting a few enormous letters on an underpass is destructive, but it is not harmful to anyone.

Jail sentences, unlike fines, are used not only as a deterrent but as a way of protecting the community from some form of danger—hence violent crimes are more likely to be punished by incarceration. While Bremer’s tagging caused expensive damage, it is still a far cry from being a threat to the lives of ordinary Bostonians. An argument could be made that the extent of the damage, and the prospect that Bremer would strike again, necessitated the lockup.

Yet unless a stay in prison were to set her on a reformed, spray-free path—and given that Bremer recently finished a separate six month sentence in New York, also for vandalism that seems unlikely—the prison term will have been unsuccessful. There is little to suggest that jail will do anything but postpone the inevitable: more graffiti.

Bremer’s sentence is more likely being used to send a message to the larger graffiti community that street art will no longer be treated with traditional leniency. Her punishment echoes the recent hard line stance taken across the state to graffiti—taggers Spek and Caype received four and twelve month prison sentences last year respectively, while Shepard Fairey, the man behind the ubiquitous “Obey” designs, was infamously nabbed by the BPD while on his way to the opening night of his own exhibit at the ICA (Could the BPD have orchestrated a more ballsy, dramatic arrest?)

Returning to Bremer’s case, the fact that she will be required to undergo a mental evaluation for painting on a wall is startlingly. In effect it says that, to the court, an eye for aesthetics and the courage to get noticed are so far from the mainstream as to be considered potential indicators of a psyche gone haywire. If the court really believes that a desire to decorate train yards without permission is a pastime of the deranged, then it has no business in handing down any sort of judgment.

Along every highway, street, and alley, graffiti is an omnipresent aspect of the city. Even if the trend of more stringent punishments for offenders holds true, don’t expect to see a drop off in the prevalence of vibrant, ornate letters on edifice walls; sending some kids to jail for doodling on concrete won’t deter others from picking up a can of Krylon themselves.

Photo credit: baddogwhiska

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  1. terry says:

    QUALITY I really like this, it reminds me of a graffiti artist I saw at their is a few more good graffiti artists on the site.

  2. FosL Ego says:

    this is an awesome article. I was surprised when i read this, i thought of how unbiased and open minded the journalist who wrote this is. I am a graffiti writer as well, and i have been a victim of sensationalist media, the will of a judge and the malleable angry mob of south florida hillbilly justice. I am still on probation after nearly 5 years and did the equivalent of 6 months jail time. Ive seen the evil inside men’s hearts and i know how destructive the cell can be for someones soul. I feel for this girl and i hope she has a semi normal future ahead of her when she gets out.

    I dont know what would be a greater crime; having an artist never perform her art again or throwing her on the same chopping block with more serious criminals. What happens when an aggressor becomes a victim? who then will be the judge of societies hypocritical backward morals? Artists for centuries endured similar tribulation when the world was dark with ignorance- how we progressed since them. so that we can look back on the year 2009 and admire the ones that believed in something enough to face the possible barbaric implementations.

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