Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2012-01-10 "Have a Sticker? Go to Jail: The Story of PJ" from "Modesto Anarcho" news journal
Imagine relaxing in your apartment after work with your family to hear a knock at the door. Upon answering it, you learn that it’s the local police department and they have a warrant to search you home. You sign the paper as they barge through the door and go straight to your room. They leave, only after taking your drawings, silk-screens, books, and take pictures of your stickers and signatures of friends who have passed through. Later in court, you learn that the police were given false information that you were a well known graffiti artist by a snitch that was arrested for vandalism. They use pictures of stickers of famous graffiti artists and tags of your friends to convict you of being someone you are not. You now are facing months and possibly more in jail…
This story isn’t a hypothetical situation, it actually happened to a young Delhi man named Paul Lopez. Recently, Modesto Anarcho began corresponding with Paul, aka “PJ,” who this winter was found guilty of a felony and a misdemeanor count of vandalism, as well as violating his probation, for the crime most commonly referred to as graffiti. The crimes that Lopez is accused of committing took place sometime in late 2009 to early 2010. Lopez is accused of spray painting “MUSKET,” the handle for a prominent graffiti writer, across the wall of a Delhi Mexican restaurant. But while PJ is accused of these crimes by the police in the previously mentioned window of time, the Delhi Express reported that the restaurant was in-fact painted in July of 2009, almost half a year before PJ was accused of the graffiti. During his trial, Lopez was also accused by the DA’s office of being yet another graffiti writer, RESON.
This is not the first time that PJ has been arrested for graffiti. Several years ago he was found by police out at night with art supplies and pled guilty to vandalism charges. Despite this incident, PJ remains a creative and talented artist. However, it was his background and previous arrest that was used in part by the courts to help portray PJ as the vandal in question.
Whenever we hear about cases of graffiti artists being locked up by the state and the victims of police harassment and raids on their homes, our hearts go out to them. We understand the war on graffiti and the largely poor and working class people who engage in it to be part of an effort by the state to attack rebellious behavior and enforce property relations. As we wrote in Modesto Anarcho #14: “[G]raffiti…is a culture and an art form that comes from us. From the urban poor. The working class. The criminal element…despite every attempt to commercialize it, it stays illegal and autonomous from corporations and the rich. Graffiti does not ask for space. It takes space.
We live in environments policed by our enemies. Designed by upper class bosses, politicians, planners, and capitalists. We are bombarded with advertisements for everything from politics to skin cream. Graffiti is about rupture against this spectacle. It is about leaving something behind that we enjoy. It is about communication in a world that thrives on silence.” As the rapper Promoe sang, “You claim they not political, but to me, the whole art form questions private property.” As PJ himself wrote, “I can see how people [see] it [as]…an eyesore but I see rundown empty businesses and houses and old shacks more of an eyesore.” 
  However, PJ’s case is much different than other graffiti writers that we have offered support to in the pages of Modesto Anarcho, because quite simply Mr. Lopez was in no way connected to the vandalism that he is accused of committing. His recent trial presented a mountain of evidence that showed clearly that he was not responsible for the graffiti. Unlike the shameful arrested graffiti artist that gave up Lopez’s name to the police in what we can assume was an attempt to get off on charges himself, Lopez refuses to cooperate with the state and will not give up anyone or name any names. It is this non-cooperation that angers the state most of all. If Lopez won’t cough up someone else for the crime, then the police and the state are all too happy to lay the blame and PJ’s feet.
But to make a jury believe this, the DA has to sell an image of Lopez as someone that he is not: namely a criminal and a dangerous person. Just as we have seen the media and the courts do over and over again in cases where police murder those they come into contact with, the courts and the media are always used to assassinate a person’s character. As PJ stated, “The DA made me look dangerous because they said I used the cover of dark to maliciously vandalize public property. They said graffiti writers are so disrespectful against society and the public. That is why they do this crime. I can’t speak for everybody but that’s not me.” Lopez also reports that his anti-government views as well as his interest in punk-rock and hip-hop was also used against him in court, helping to portray him against the jury’s favor. Thus, the state uses someone’s interests and beliefs, even tastes in music or clothing as a way of making them look not only guilty, but a threat to society, and worthy of punishment from the state. The state is the real monster; as it uses its police and courts to destroy the lives of everyday people while the rich and powerful wreck havoc without consequence.   
More telling is the actual ‘evidence’ that the state has compiled, which includes items from the raid conducted at PJ’s home in Delhi and the words of snitch. From the raid, police gathered such ‘evidence’ as stickers and tags of various artists in notebooks that belonged to PJ. One sticker image in particular stood out more than others, a sticker of “MU” in a graffiti style. The sticker represented the moniker of “MUSKET,” a well known graffiti artist in northern California and across the country. It is this sticker that police have used as evidence that PJ was responsible for writing “MUSKET” in Delhi. However, the sticker was not even handmade, such as those one sees across the world on postal stickers, it was mass-produced and printed from a machine; something that Lopez had gotten from mail-order. From the pictures of tags that police got from the raid, the DA went on to propose Lopez was the artist RESON, even though the style and lettering of RESON’s is clearly different from that of Lopez’s. Tags and graffiti stickers are found in many young people’s rooms and homes; which makes the attack against PJ even scarier. If someone can be locked up with this flimsy evidence, what’s to stop them from doing it to the rest of us?
PJ’s defense was able to bring forth two pieces of evidence that should have thrown out his case. Firstly, they attempted to show in court the graffiti movie “WAR,” which features various US artists doing their art. In the movie is none other than MUSKET themselves, and it clearly shows a larger stocky male shape. PJ however, has a light build and has never been stocky. PJ’s defense tried to argue that this clearly showed that PJ was not MUSKET, however the judge ruled that the video could not be substantiated and thus threw it out as possible evidence. Second, the defense brought to the stand the author of the book “Bay Area Graffiti,” Steve Rotman, which chronicles various artists in northern California, including MUSKET. On the stand the author clearly testified that they did not believe at all that Lopez was in fact MUSKET. Furthermore, he could not be. MUSKET pieces were popping up all over the bay area. How could Lopez be someone that keeps going out and doing their craft? 
It’s also important to realize the ways in which PJ made mistakes in his interactions with law enforcement. Namely, after the raid when he was taken in for questioning, Lopez talked with police for several hours before his lawyer arrived on the scene. Talking to the police without your lawyer present is never a good idea. It doesn’t matter how good you think your story is, everything that you tell a cop can be used against you. If you find yourself in a similar situation, just keep your mouth shut and say only that you are going to wait to talk to your lawyer before making any sort of statements.
The charges against Paul Lopez should be dropped at once. He should return to his family and his child. We see this assault on PJ to be an attempt by a police department to make a name for themselves by putting a face to a well known graffiti artist. Furthermore, this case shows clearly how the police use intimidation and threats of jail time to turn possible comrades against each other. A population divided against itself is one that does not revolt against those that oppress and control it. We admire PJ’s commitment to non-cooperation with the state and we encourage everyone to share his story and stand in solidarity with him as he fights these bogus charges.
We must also realize that very real power that the police, the courts, and the state has over our lives. They can not only turn friends and family against each other under threats of jail, but they also can raid homes and fabricate evidence. They can use the courts to portray us as violent and dangerous people who need to be removed from the community. We must recognize these systems of power and domination to be what they are: products of a colonial system of power and privilege that divides society into classes and the working and poor against each other by race.
Many that read this probably won’t be graffiti artists, but everyone that reads this lives under the threat of having their homes raided by police and facing trumped up charges based on their political ideas, their associations, and a multitude of other factors. Recently, with the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act, the state now has the power to detain without limit those who threaten the state without trial. Migrants also face similar attacks, as those in this country without papers (or believed to be without) can be taken off the streets and placed into detention facilities until they are deported. Millions more Americans are swallowed alive by the prison system, caught in an endless cycle of imprisonment, probation, and parole. Tens of millions more live in an open air prison, where the authorities are given extreme power of force, surveillance, and intelligence gathering as the state gathers more and more control over our daily lives. This all is designed to have one effect: to police the potential threats to capital and the state and secure the power structure against those that could find each other and attack it.
We must show solidarity with PJ if only because anyone of us could be in his situation, just as we would if he was “guilty” of the crime of changing the color of a surface. This means going to back him up in court, sending in financial donations, and spreading the word about his case. But solidarity also means that we must fight against common enemies and threats to our humanity and very lives. It means that we must get organized and resist the state and the police which operates these apparatuses of power and control. Solidarity if it means anything, means attack.  
We will leave you with a letter from Lopez himself, where he details his case:
“I was just recently accused of being a famous graffiti writer known as MUSKET/MUERTE/MU. If you are aware of graffiti you might know who [the person] is. As of last year, some kid was arrested here in Delhi. The cops said he said I was Musket and had a cousin named J. Cortez, which I don’t. That I wrote ‘RESON.’         Soon after, Lt. Luke Hukill of the Merced County Sheriff’s Department served a search warrant to my apartment in Turlock and found multiple mass produced graffiti stickers [including] some ‘MU’ stickers as well as others bearing the likeness of other graffiti writers. That was enough for them.
          I’m not MUSKET. I fought this case all year in court. I had evidence as well as scenes from the graffiti movie, “War 4,” which contains footage of Musket that shows (his body type is much bigger) that it was clearly not me, even though the face was blurred. But Judge Kirahara of the Merced County Superior Courts did not allow this evidence because it could not be ‘authenticated.’ The DA, Rita Patel, threw a fit and the evidence was unable to be used.
          The kid [who snitched to the cops] wasn’t even in court to testify, even though he said I was MUSKET. A friend of mine even gave me a newspaper that had the same graffiti I was accused of doing 8 months before the police wrote in their report that said I had vandalized La Rosita in Delhi between December 17th 2009 and January 20th 2010. The newspaper said the graffiti was there since before July of 2009. That made the cops’ evidence look real bad. But, as of October 6th, after the jury was guaranteed to only be there till the fifth of the week prior, and the judge said if any longer it will be a mistrial, but the jury had to stay the extra day and only deliberated for an hour. When my public defender told me I could have got an infraction while they deliberated but no. The jury found me guilty of being two different taggers. I even had Steve Rotman, the guy who wrote the bay area graffiti book that contains some of Musket’s work [testify in court on my behalf].
          I had no chance from the start. The detective involved in the case Lt. Hukill and others, confirmed that they got my name from a database available only to police. It is used to share cases and pretty much frame people. This is just another battle on the war against the public.                
        These cops are not here to protect and serve, they just want to move up in the corporate law ladder and they don’t care whose lives they destroy on their way up.”

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