The Red Line of Vandalism…


A recent story about some vandalism at a small park in the county seemed to be like “tinfoil on a filling” to some in the community.

This small facility is in an out-of-the-way portion of the county and park officials had just renovated restrooms when vandals struck with spray paint and actual damage to trees, rocks and more.

I think what set people “off” was the wanton destruction and damage.

Now, this was far from the first example of vandalism at a park facility in town.

Years ago, we used to have a drive-through Christmas lighting display right in town that had to be scrapped after repeated acts of vandalism to displays and decorations as well as frequent flooding due to the nearby river.

“Vandalism” is a noun, defined as “action involving deliberate destruction of, or damage to public or private property”.

It also includes property damage, such as graffiti and defacement directed towards any property without permission of the owner.

The word has its’ roots with the Germanic Vandals, a uniquely “destructive” group, under the rule of King Genseric that sacked Rome in 455.

To be fair, the Goths and the Vandals were blamed for the destruction of Rome over 14 days but the Vandals wound up getting a word named after them.

The Vandals were probably no more destructive than other invaders but they seemed to enjoy damaging statues and artwork.



So who does this stuff?

Researchers say the typical “vandal” is male in his teens through 20’s.

They often do this out of anger or envy, a spontaneous or opportunistic behavior seeking peer acceptance or bravado, especially in gang cultures.

Sometimes it’s simply greed.

Vandalism today includes graffiti art.

I often marvel at the spray can artwork on railroad cars as I sit at a rail crossing.

High quality artwork but doggone it, if you don’t have the permission of the railroads, it’s property damage in all it’s brilliant color.

The United States Small Business Association says the average cost per vandalism incident is $3,370.

Law enforcement officials say vandalism is a “gateway crime”.

In the United States, if you’re convicted of vandalism, you can receive fines and some jail time but it seems much of this damage never results in an arrest.

However, in Singapore, if you attempt or commit an act of vandalism, you can get up to 3 years in prison and receive a caning for your act of self-expression or protest.

Now, confession is good for the soul.

This article is being written by a former “vandal”.

In my early teens, some buddies dared me to knock a lighted pumpkin off the porch of a neighbor.

As I stealthily crept near near the orange veggie, a motion sensor in the yard caused the front door light to go on.

I beat a hasty retreat through the nearby backyards.

At full gallop in the darkness of the night, I was feeling pretty cocky to avoid capture when I suddenly found myself flat on my back with a burning sensation across the bridge of my nose and cheeks, just below my eyes.

I was just tall enough to catch a neighbor’s clothesline across my face and I was rendered immobile for a brief moment.

No lasting damage but I did have to come up with an explanation for my parents when I got home, sporting this obvious scarlet line on my face.

It’s amazing I didn’t break my neck.


In 1974, Norman Mailer glorified vandalism in his essay “The Faith of Graffiti”.

Long before that painter Gustave Courbet justified the destruction of monuments symbolic of “war and conquest” as it was often done as an expression of contempt, creativity or both.

The attempt to dismantle the Vendome column, a symbol of the past Napoleon III authoritarian empire, may be one of the most-celebrated events in vandalism.

I don’t think my attempted pumpkin-tipping or the park vandalism mentioned earlier carries the same historic weight.

However, an event on December 16, 1773 holds a special place in our nation’s history.

At Griffin’s Wharf in Boston harbor, American colonists dumped 342 chests of tea into the water.

They were protesting the British “taxation without representation”.

The British probably thought of it as vandalism while we Americans see it as something much more significant, meaningful and patriotic.

Attempted pumpkin-tipping and park destruction probably fall a bit short of that in their historical impact.

You see, vandalism has been part of the American experience and whether you view it as “freedom of expression” or wanton destruction, it depends on which side of the ocean you live on.

Today’s vandalism seems to be more destructive and senseless but that’s just me from my old man “get off my lawn!” perspective.

We’ll never be able to stop vandalism.

I don’t think a Singapore caning is the answer either.

But, outside of my attempt at pumpkin-tipping, swift punishment, however accidental, from an unseen clothesline, ended my career as a vandal.

I suspect my parents noted my red face line as sufficient punishment.

However, there was also that threat of a whack on the backside that deterred me.

Doesn’t seem to me much of that these days.

Is there a connection?

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