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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Hate Speech on a School Campus

I, like you, was shocked and upset to hear that Memorial High School students returned to school last Wednesday to find hateful and horrific language sprayed across their campus. Their principal, Lisa Weir, addressed the crime in a letter:

I am writing to inform you that Memorial High School was the target of racist and hate-filled graffiti [which] appears on the walls, sidewalks, and a library window along the main courtyard, and on a west parking lot wall. It includes racial slurs, hate symbols, and foul language. Spring Branch ISD Police are conducting an investigation, and the district operations team has removed nearly all graffiti as of this time.

Crime Stoppers of Houston is now also joining the efforts to find those wanted for this horrific activity and will pay up to $5,000 for information that leads to the identification and/or arrest of those involved. {Call 713-222-TIPS anonymously with any information.}

Graffiti is from the Greek word to write; it’s what we call inscriptions or drawings that have been added illicitly on exterior walls or other surfaces within public view. It’s a practice that has existed for centuries, dating back to Ancient Greek and Egyptian times as well as the Roman Empire.

When reviewing cases, we find that people engage in graffiti:

  • As a form of artistic expression
  • To praise or attack groups or individuals
  • To make political commentary, raise social issues, or in protest
  • To show an affiliation with a gang or claim territory

Here’s my problem – no matter what the reason, it’s illegal. And when graffiti touches public property with hateful speech, I have an even bigger problem with it.

Do you know what the legal consequences are for this type of vandalism? My hope is we can proactively share this information to deter other young adults from engaging in this behavior.

  • Defacing any type of public property with graffiti is a criminal offense in Texas.
  • Graffiti devalues property and creates a financial burden to others.
  • Section 28.08 of the Texas Penal Code states that any person who, without effective consent of the owner, creates inscriptions, drawings or designs on property with spray paint, permanent markers or with etchings may be arrested and prosecuted. Note, the law is specifically speaking of permanent or difficult to remove drawings or designs.

The penalty for a graffiti conviction varies based on the estimated or actual amount of financial loss the property owner is subject to as a result of the graffiti. Here’s a guide to what this can look like:

  • Damage less than $100. Class C misdemeanor. Punishable by $500 fine.
  • Damages between $100 – $750. Class B misdemeanor. Punishably by up to 180 days in jail + possible fine.
  • Damages between $30,000 – $150,000. Third Degree Felony. Punishable by up to 10 years in prison + possible fine.
  • The court may also order compensatory damages as well as that the culprit work to remove the graffiti or engage in community service.

mustang love resized Houston Crime Stoppers

Memorial High School has created the #MustangLove campaign to bring together the community.

Regardless of your position on “art,” the defacing of public property is a nuisance that negatively impacts many. When there are additional efforts to blast hateful speech – especially in places that cater to young adults – it rises to the level of being a horrific, unconscionable and indefensible action. The world has evolved and our communities have evolved in a way where more of us will stand together than apart. We will take the necessary steps to stamp out hateful speech and stop it from taking place again.

And last but certainly not least, to those students at Memorial High School, please know that you are a bright and shining community of young brilliant minds. We support you and stand with you. Each and every single one of you is valued and appreciated. Your light has already outshined this hate.

Memorial High School student Holly Kurisky shares students’ reactions to the situation and discusses the newly-created #MustangLove campaign in this School Buzz blog post. (http://thebuzzmagazines.com/articles/2017/01/mustang-love-through-adversity)

Posted by Rania Mankarious on 15 Jan 2017

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston