The 'tagging bill' may come down harder on graffiti vandalism, but the motivation of one prolific tagger suggests it probably won't stop bored young men making marks on your fence or business. Marty Sharpe reports.
Meet Joseph Kitchener. The 24-year-old former P addict from Flaxmere has found a more addictive drug: graffiti vandalism. He is a prolific tagger and a "bomber" and boasts of "stuffing up" much of the North Island.
Kitchener epitomises all that people detest when they see their city or town defaced by vandals.
A seasonal fruit picker currently out of work, he's a young, bored man with no interests and no ambitions that don't include spraying paint on someone else's property.
His idea of a good night out is to board a moving freight train in Napier, hang off the side of it with a bag-load of spray cans and "bomb" a shipping container before jumping off as the train nears Hastings. His friends - part of his "crew" - drive alongside filming him as he does it.
Kitchener won't reveal the name of his crew for fear of being charged for numerous tags around the North Island, but says it includes four others in Hawke's Bay, three in Hamilton and two in Wellington.
They tag scrawls of three to four letters marking their turf and paint "bombs", which are larger, colourful images and words - better known as graffiti.
They share photographs of their work on the Bebo, YouTube and Facebook websites. They're putting the train episode on YouTube next month.
Born and raised in Sydney, Kitchener moved to Flaxmere, near Hastings, with his parents three years ago. He has been a tagger since the age of 12 and is well known to police locally and in Sydney.
With a string of burglary convictions, and one for assault for which he spent two months in prison, he is no stranger to court.
"Jail was nothing compared to what I thought it would be. The people are nice, they're all like me. Instead of having conversations explaining why I do things, those people already know why I do those things," he says.
It rather deflates any hope people might have that jail sentences will deter graffiti vandals.
He says he understands why people would get upset at being tagged, but he just doesn't care.
"I definitely wouldn't like it if it was done to me. But if I thought about that I wouldn't do it, if I thought about people's feelings. I've never cared what people think of me. If I did I would've stopped."
A lot of it is about turf. A group claims an area with its tag, which is usually nothing more sophisticated than three letters.
At the moment Kitchener and his crew are concerned about a Christchurch crew going by the name of PAS. They are starting to tag in Hawke's Bay.
"They've got a YouTube site where they say, `We will own the North Island one day'. It just gees me up to do more and more."
Kitchener has been caught tagging twice. There have been plenty of close calls, with police or security turning up just after he has left. And there have been threats from business owners and residents.
"I've had people threaten me with knives, baseball bats. I've had them run after out of their houses and put their dogs on to me," he says.
"I don't want to break the law, but it's all I think about every minute of every day. I can't help it. It's a habit. When I see a wall I can already see my bomb on it."
Lately he has resolved not to bomb or tag houses, fences or cars. "Businesses have insurance. They can afford to clean it up. That's what they get insurance for. House owners have to pay for it out of their own pocket.
"Now I'm just down to bridges, trucks, poles, trees and trains. Trains are the best. To watch a train go past and see your bomb on it: that's the ultimate experience."
A large wall, supplied by the council the same way it provides skate parks, would be the answer, he says. But it would need to be somewhere people could see it.
"Sometimes I put myself on the line just so I might get caught, so I can get the gratification of people knowing who did the bombing."
He is frustrated that he has to tag under bridges where no one will see it. "I want people to see it and look at the detail, see what I can do."
Kitchener has been drug-free for six months, and says he "gets pretty much the same buzz" now from tagging. "This is all I want to do. If I wasn't doing this I'd be back on drugs - and that wouldn't be good for anyone."
- The Dominion Post
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