Monday, 26 May 2014

Vandalism and the Act of Rebellion

There is something interesting to be said about the recent act of vandalism on the roof of a HDB block, sprayed with profanity prominently mentioning a political party. Though it may be that the culprits could be either naïve or immature, the bold and blatant act caught some people by surprise.

Consider the precariousness in which the graffiti was sprayed. Near the ledge of the roof where the perpetrators could fall off easily, not only were it risky for them to spray the words visibly, there was a certain guarantee, intended or not, that any attempt to erase it will be difficult. (We now know it is not cause a foreign worker cleaned it off shortly after.)

Consider the fact that the message was displayed on a HDB block, a hallmark of government housing and a mark of provision for all.

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Vandalism not acceptable: Indranee Rajah

“If you have a viewpoint that you wish to express, there are ways and means of expressing it. You do not have to damage property to do that.”

On Wednesday, graffiti was found along the rooftop of Block 85A at Toa Payoh Lorong 4. Five 17-year-olds have been charged with vandalism.

On Saturday, it emerged that an SMRT train had been vandalised at the Bishan MRT Depot.

Is vandalism OK?

When a message or image is painted on a train or an HDB block, are people outraged? And do they approve of it being done on public property?

Judging by The New Paper street poll, the answer is mixed. TNP showed the respondents images involving recent acts of alleged vandalism and asked their opinion.

Just over half (59 per cent) said they were not offended by the message or image. But 81 per cent said no to these same images and messages being scrawled or painted on public property.

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Recent Vandalism Cases – A Cause for Concern?

Words related to the recent talk about CPF had been found scribbled on a number of bus stop signs and pavements. Photos of the graffiti have been making their rounds on the internet.

All instances of vandalism share a similar message – they are all in support of blogger Roy Ngerng, who was recently sued by Singapore’s Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong for his article on the CPF.

The graffiti reads, “WE SUPPORT CPF BLOGGER RETURN OUR CPF MONEY FROM R/AC ‘N’ M/AC ABOVE 65 YRS $5000 BAL M/AC”. There is an assumption that R/AC refers to Retirement Account and M/AC refers to Medisave Account.

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Vandalism and political defiance

Defiance and dissent is taking on a slightly violent streak. Vandals have struck by scrawling anti-PAP words on top of a Toa Payoh block of flats, painting on the war monument and attacking posters at bus stops.

We spoke to a lawyer, sociologist and a political science lecturer for their views. Is there something more than meets the eye, we asked sociologist Chua Beng Huat.

He warned about over reading into these incidents. “There are always more ‘deviants’ than there are police; the likelihood of  ’crime’ being solved is generally low in every society. Also, they are willing to take their chances for their commitment or pleasure,” said Chua.

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We have seen the issue of vandalism hitting the media spotlight with the Sticker Lady (Samantha Lo) a couple of years ago.  What she did had mild political overtones.  But, otherwise it was the case of an individual pushing the boundaries of acceptable social behaviour (whilst at the same time crossing the legal boundaries).

The other famous instances of vandalism were the Michael Fay incident in 1993/1994 and Oliver Fricker’s train vandalism in 2010.  These had nothing to do with politics.

When the Vandalism Act was passed in the 1960s, it included caning as a punishment.  The reason was political.  Even if we were to put aside the question of whether caning should be a form of punishment at all, it is plainly obvious that caning for a property offence is extremely disproportionate.  It appears that in the 1960s slogan-writing by political opponents was a phenomenon the PAP government had to contend with.  LKY and his fellow Parliamentarians seem to be aware that they were not dealing with mere juvenile delinquents.  These were persons driven by ideological passion.  In his cruel, brutish fashion, the old man seems to have felt that a few strokes of the cane would set right whatever political thinking there was in the minds of the slogan writers.

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A string of vandalism cases has been occurring around Singapore with bus stops defaced with CPF related messages.

An image of one such vandalised bus stop was circulating online yesterday showing a clear screen advertising space at the Old Hill Street Police Station vandalised:

The message read "We Support CPF Blogger. Return our CPF Money From R/AC 'N' M/AC"

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Vandalism of six bus stops in Clarke Quay under probe

One of the bus stops in the Clarke Quay area that were vandalised. The police confirmed that a report was lodged early last Friday. It is understood that LTA contractors were dispatched by mid-afternoon to clean up the affected areas. -- PHOTO: TNP

The police are investigating a string of vandalism acts by apparent supporters of blogger Roy Ngerng, who was last week served a letter of demand for a post on May 15 alleging that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had misappropriated Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

Mr Ngerng apologised to PM Lee last Friday, and admitted that the allegation in his May 15 post is false and "completely without foundation".

He added: "I unreservedly apologise to Mr Lee Hsien Loong for the distress and embarrassment caused to him by this allegation."

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Thousands of vandalised public structures a disgrace

All types of vandalism must not to be tolerated. But the SPF action has to be consistently applied to EVERY case.

Vandalism has been rampant for years and for Ms Indranee to claim that it is not acceptable, you have to be corrected.

As the Senior Minister for Law and Education, I would appreciate if you could convince the SPF to assist all the statutory boards to put an end to this chronic issue. I am sure you would agree that such rampant vandalism is a disgrace to our First World status.

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The 5 Toa Payoh Vandals are not Heroes
The 5 youths being transported in a police van on their way to the State Courts. (ST photo)

Following the vulgarity and anti-establishment graffiti atop of Blk 85A Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, 5 17 year old teenagers were arrested and charged in court for vandalism last Friday. They were remanded for a week for further investigations and are believed to involved in another case.

Much has been made about their reasons for doing so. To some opposition supporters, this has links to the draconian way the PAP runs Singapore. To some others, it's an overkill by the authorities and they worry about the fate of the boys. To these groups, these boys are 'heroes' for standing up and they feel they should be praised rather than condemned. I disagree, and in the final analysis, all these efforts by certain people and groups are doing a great dis-service to the boys. It's turning a rather straight forward case in something that's much bigger. This can easily prove detrimental to their plight rather than helpful. If I were the parent of any of the boys, my simple message to everyone - thanks for your concern, but please, let's leave the matter in the hands of our lawyers and mind your own business.

Graffiti type vandalism is not new to Singapore. It carries a jail term and a minimum of 3 strokes of the cane. Whether you think it harsh or brutal, let's not forget why it was introduced here in the first place. Back in the 1980s. such sights were common place, and with the introduction of the MRT, there was a fear if left unchecked, our trains would end up looking like the subways in America.  Graffiti may appear as art to some, but it's also widely used to mark gang territory and what is art to some, is very much an eyesore to others. The stiff penalties imposed here was NOT met by derision by the general public. There was consensus back then (and even now) that if left unchecked, many of our public places, buildings and amenities would soon be swamped and defaced by graffiti. It's 1 thing to say, 'Hey, it's just some kids spraying paint on a wall, but how would you like it if the walls outside your flat or house were defaced?'

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Profanities On Rooftop Of A Toa Payoh HDB

If you’re 17 years old in Singapore, you don’t qualify to vote. You don’t qualify to be conscripted. However, you apparently qualify to have your identity exposed and your character dragged through the mud if you stand accused of a crime.

Most of the mainstream media publications in Singapore have been quick to censor the “sensitive” aspects of the graffiti that was scrawled in public view. They seem equally anxious to “expose” and humiliate the alleged perpetrators of this “sensitive” crime.

Faces of the 17 year old boys in the police van squinting in the glare of camera flash adorn the online versions of the mainstream press. The boys look visibly shaken.

relatedVandalism on Toa Payoh HDB block roof

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SMRT train Vandalised Again
Local public transport operator SMRT has lodged a police report on a case of vandalism at its Bishan depot on Monday morning

This is the second instance of vandalism at SMRT's Bishan depot.

The first case took place in August 2011, where graffiti was discovered on a northbound train.

In another incident of a MRT train being vandalised, Swiss national Oliver Fricker and his British friend Dane Alexander Lloyd broke into SMRT’s Changi depot and vandalised a train in May 2010.

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Police arrest 4 boys, aged 9 to 10, for vandalism
Police have arrested four youths, aged nine to 10, in a case of vandalism

The boys were arrested at the scene with the help of a member of the public, the police said in a statement today.

The police said that on Tuesday afternoon, officers from Ang Mo Kio Police Division responded to a call from a member of the public who said that he had detained four boys who were believed to have vandalised a car at a multi-storey carpark near Punggol Field Road.

Officers later discovered four vehicles, a bicycle, walls and letterboxes had been spray-painted.

Police arrest four boys for suspected vandalism in Punggol
Primary school boys nabbed for alleged involvement in vandalism spree
Four boys nabbed over vandalism spree

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Graffiti cases that made headlines in Singapore

Street artist Samantha Lo, dubbed Sticker Lady for spray-painting Singlish phrases on several roads and pasting stickers on public properties, was on Wednesday sentenced to perform 240 hours of community service within a year.

The online arts magazine founder, who pleaded guilty to seven counts of mischief, was also issued with a Day Reporting Order for three months, where she has to report to a reporting centre for supervision and counselling.

In 2012, Lo, 26, spray-painted the words 'My Grandfather Buildings' onto walls and 'MY GRANDFATHER ROAD' on several roads including Maxwell Road, Robinson Road, Enggor Street, Telegraph Street and Old Tampines Road. Lo and her accomplice, Anthony Chong, also pasted cheeky stickers bearing slogans such as 'Anyhow Paste Kena Fine' and “Anyhow Press Police Catch' on a road traffic signs.

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Her arrest shook up the local arts community and sparked the longstanding debate on art versus vandalism, with some supporting Sticker Lady's actions and others arguing she should face legal consequences for her acts.

While Lo’s actions were motivated by “artistic sensibilities to promote art and culture”, what she did was deemed no less as vandalism and she could have been jailed for up to one year and fined for it.

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Canvas: Cars and public property

In 1994, American teenager Michael Fay shot to worldwide fame after he was sentenced to caning for vandalism.

Fay and his friends went on a 10-day vandalism spree, spray-painting cars and defacing public property.

Fay, who was just 18 years old then, pleaded guilty to spray-painting two cars at Chatsworth Road and Cairnhill Place carpark in September 1993 with three accomplices.

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He was sentenced to four months' jail, a fine of $3,500 and six strokes of the cane. Sixteen other vandalism and four mischief charges were taken into consideration.

Fay's lawyers appealed, arguing that the Vandalism Act provided caning only for indelible forms of vandalism and that the spray-painted cars were cheaply restored to their original condition. However, then-Chief Justice Yong Pung How retorted that Fay had committed acts of vandalism 'relentlessly and willfully”.

Even a plea clemency by then-US President Bill Clinton, who had described the punishment as “extreme”, could not spare Fay from the rod. Fay's sentence was later reduced to three strokes of the cane.

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Canvas: SMRT train

It was not only vandalism but also his trespassing that landed 32-year-old Swiss national Oliver Fricker in prison.

Fricker and his accomplice, Briton Lloyd Dane Alexander, broke into SMRT’s Changi train depot, a protected area, on May 17, 2010 and spray-painted the words 'McKoy” and “Banos' on two MRT carriages.

Fricker, a software consultant, was arrested on May 25, just two days before he was to return to Switzerland to begin a new job.

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He was sentenced to five months in jail and three strokes of the cane for vandalism and trespass. On appeal, the jail sentence was increased to seven months.

“This was a stunt that was plainly designed to attract international notoriety,” said the appeals judge.

“The offending behaviour is not just an act of crass vandalism, but one accompanied by a planned break-in into a protected place.”

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Canvas: Cenotaph war memorial

Security officer Mohamad Khalid Mohamad Yusop, suspected of vandalising the Cenotaph war memorial at Esplanade Park, has been charged with one count of vandalism.

Mohamad Khalid, 32, allegedly spray painted the word “democracy” in red and crossed out the dates “1914 – 1918” in black, on April 23 shortly after 11pm.

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He was arrested by the police in a building along Handy Road on April 27 and some items including a long-sleeved T-shirt, a pair of jeans, a pair of shoes, a tote bag, and a pair of headphones were seized for investigation.

The case was first reported to the authorities by a member of the public on April 24, who saw the monument sprayed with graffiti.

Under the Vandalism Act, Mohamad Khalid faces a fine of up to S$2,000 or a maximum imprisonment term of up to three years. He can also be caned between three and eight strokes.

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Canvas: SingPost post boxes

Singaporeans were outraged when they learned that a masked man had openly spray-painted six SingPost post boxes over the New Year in 2010.

The serial mailbox vandal, who signed off as Inkman, left his mark on post boxes at Orchard Road, Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Batok and Holland Village.

Turns out it was a publicity stunt by the postal company to promote a post box art competition called Stamp 2 to mark Singapore's hosting of the first Youth Olympic Games in August that year.

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The police were not amused, saying the episode had caused unnecessary public alarm and wasted valuable resources.

Then-Group CEO of SingPost, Wilson Tan, said: ' We would really like to sincerely apologise for the undue alarm and inconveniences caused to all parties.

'Certainly, that was not the desire and aim. Our focus is to go out and be part of communicating and connecting with the community.'

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Canvas: Shophouse

This mural at Haji Lane created quite a stir last year when it was reported to have flouted the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) new conservation rules.

According to URA’s colour guidelines, owners are encouraged to use “traditional colour schemes” or pastel shades on conserved shophouses to “retain its unique heritage character”.

The artwork which was commissioned by the owner of the Blu Jaz Cafe, Aileen Tan, is just one of several murals in the historical Kampong Glam district.

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Though URA said it will only take action when the colours are of 'great concern' or 'downright objectionable', it noted that owners have been made to remove paint covering the original facade tiles of their shophouses in the past.

Those found guilty of breaching the guidelines can be fined up to $200,000 and/or jailed for up to a year.

Fortunately, URA made an exception and Haji Lane was allowed to keep its artworks as they are “tastefully done and keep in character of the area”.

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The works of 'My grandfather road' artist
A Singapore guerilla artist responsible for the works of street art that have been spotted around Singapore lately has been arrested

However, netizens are questioning if her works, which pokes fun at the unique querks of Singaporeas, can be considered 'public art' which contributes to the cultural flavour of Singapore. Among her works are "My Grandfather Road" spray painted onto roads here, and "My Grandfather Buildings" onto walls.

Going under the moniker SklO, she also pasted circular stickers with slogans such as "Press Until Shiok" and "Press for Money" above the buttons at roadside crossings.

An online petition has been going around asking for 20,000 signatures to ask the Government to ease their restrictions on public 'art' and reduce the arrested woman's charge from Vandalism to Miscellaneous Offences.

My grandfather road vandalised
Give warning can already

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Singapore police manhunt nabs suspect three days after war memorial is vandalised 

Police caught up with the suspected vandal (centre) three days after the Cenotaph war memorial in Singapore (below) was defaced with paint. The ensuing manhunt was a good dress rehearsal which validated SOPs for tracking and apprehending a person of interest

The phrase "this is no drill" could aptly describe the manhunt for the person(s) who defaced the Cenotaph war memorial in the heart of Singapore city with red spray paint.

After just three days, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) paid a visit to the suspected vandal, a 32-year-old man. The look on his smug face when that knock on the door came would be a work of art. There he is in the picture (above) released by the SPF.

The SPF said today that officers from Central Police Division nabbed the suspect at about 11:30am this morning.

Swiss train vandal gets 5 months jail, 3 strokes of the cane
AN MRT train parked in a depot was hit with garish graffiti in what amounted to a serious security breach in a restricted area here

A court in Singapore sentenced a Swiss man to five months in jail and three strokes of a wooden cane on Friday for breaking into a metro depot and spray-painting a train with graffiti.

Oliver Fricker, a 32-year-old expatriate working in Singapore as a software consultant, had pleaded guilty to trespass and vandalism, which are considered serious offences in the city-state.

"The total sentence is five months' imprisonment, three strokes of the cane," said Judge See Kee Oon. Fricker showed no emotion as he was led from the courtroom by policemen.

related: Subway graffiti case stirs up Singapore

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Taking art to the streets

Mention graffiti in Singapore and two names come to mind - Michael Fay and Oliver Fricker, two guys who spray-painted their way to jail here.

However, graffiti doesn’t always equal vandalism. When done right, they are works of art that add character to a place and can be enjoyed by the public.

In recent years, Singapore's graffiti art scene has evolved and more are picking up the spray can to express themselves, albeit only at designated spaces.

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Is this art or graffiti?

If you think all graffiti can be is illicitly spray painted or drawn things on walls or sidewalks, think again.

With the graffiti work seen below, found from around the world, you might change your mind. Some are plain witty, like the cheerleader holding 'pompoms' - which are actually tufts of grass on a sidewalk. Others are downright amazing, making you feel like you're going to fall off some waterfalls, or with cleverly drawn faces and things.

So is this art or graffiti? See for yourself.

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Vandalism cases in Singapore
SMRT train Vandalised Again
Profanities On Rooftop Of A Toa Payoh HDB
Vandalism and the Act of Rebellion