Have a Sticker? Go to Jail!

The Story of “PJ”……. 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 your 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.

A throw-up that PJ was accused of doing

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…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 a snitch. From the raid, police gathered such ‘evidence’ as stickers and tags of 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 ones seen 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?

Another picture used against PJ

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.” From http://modestoanarcho.org

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Categories: Central Valley Hip-Hop, Central Valley News, Graffiti/Hip-Hop Art, Legal/Know Your Rights, Prisoner Issues

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