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Vandal strikes with spray paint

Tim Mutrie

A vandal struck in downtown Aspen sometime over the New Year’s weekend, leaving a series of graffiti “tags” high on the eastern side of an unoccupied storefront building next to Aspen Drug on the Hyman Avenue Mall.

The graffiti – mostly nonsensical spray-paint scribble surrounding two oversized “BK”s – apparently went up on two separate nights, between Dec. 30 and Jan. 3, authorities said.

“One day, a witness saw that the graffiti was outlined [on the wall], and the next day, they noticed it was colored in,” said Patrol Supervisor Sandy Brownlee of the Aspen Police Department.

“It just looks like a “tag,” said Aspen Police Assistant Chief Keith Ikeda, whose experience as an investigator in the Seattle area familiarized him with the various genres of graffiti art.

“There’s tagging, and then there’s gang graffiti, which will usually include their gang name, their sect, their enemies, that type of thing,” Ikeda continued.

The symbol “BK” used to stand for “Blood Killer,” Ikeda said, referring to the storied Los Angeles-based gangs, Bloods and Crips. The two gangs had a long-standing and oftentimes violent rivalry beginning in the mid-1980s.

But Ikeda said he believed that this recent graffiti art is not gang-related.

“With taggers, the higher the tag, the more prestige,” he said. “The best ones are on freeway signs, or so they think. They call it, `riding the heavens,’ a tagging term for a difficult tag. They’ll try to get their tag up in as many places as possible, because they think it brings them fame or notoriety.”

No other graffiti has shown up in Aspen recently, but the city has been targeted in the past. And based on past experiences, police ask the owners of “tagged” facades to cover it up.

“Leaving it there invites others to put more up,” Ikeda said. “It’s like the broken window theory: If a building has one broken window that doesn’t get fixed, pretty soon all the windows will be broken out.

“The community shouldn’t tolerate graffiti,” he added. “It’s a sign of disrespect … and if you don’t stay on top of it, it starts getting out of hand.”

A part-owner of the building, the individual who reported the graffiti to police, estimated it would cost $500 to whitewash, or repaint, the wall, Ikeda said.


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