Saturday, January 17, 2009

paging john edwards

Spray paint. Hair. Shoes. Buttocks.

Morey Amsterdam, the comedian, claimed he could produce a joke from any word shouted at him from his audiences. With those four words, Morey probably could have created a year's worth of situation comedy episodes.

But a news story? Really?

Here it is, if you have not already seen it. Dateline: Monterrey.

Four teenagers say police in a northern Mexican town spray-painted their hair, shoes and buttocks to teach them not to paint graffiti on public property.

Emilio Alfaro of Nuevo Leon state’s Human Rights Commission said Thursday the youths have filed a complaint alleging that police in Guadalupe slapped, kicked and painted them with spray cans after detaining them for vandalism.

The youths are aged between 14 and 16. They presented paint-stained shoes and photos of their painted heads as evidence.

Guadelupe’s police department says several officers have been suspended while the matter is being investigated.

The youths were fined more than $200 before being released on Tuesday.

Guadalupe is outside the city of Monterrey.

Anyone who has visited certain areas of Mexico can testify that graffiti can be as thick as -- well, graffiti on a New York subway train. Some call it popular murals. Others, who have not been afflicted with the postmodern abolition of beauty, call it a shame.

So, the local Mexican constabulary catch a group of the young hoodlums doing their bad Diego Rivera impression on "public property," and decide that a personal lesson might be more effective than The System. Paint their empty little heads. Their beloved shoes. And, with a stroke of genius, their as-yet-unwhipped butts.

What duty could not create, shame may drive out.

Now, let me stop here and try to add an adult touch before I head off into where everyone knows I am going. Law cannot be meted out through the whims of authority figures. The police are supposed to apprehend, not prosecute, not try, not punish. The rule of law gives the other functions to prosecutors, judges, and penal officials.

When a policeman accepts a "fine" on the street, we condemn it for what it is: corruption. And so is this.

But now that Adult Voice has had his say, I will point out that Adult Voice is merely indulging in adolescent absolutism. Corruption is bad. But we are very willing to daily allow the police to teach lessons on behalf of society. And I personally think this was a jolly good one.

I can hear the usual suspects. Violence begets violence. They will learn to disrespect authority. No good comes from engendering a lack of self-respect.

My suggestion is to put those statements on your bumper. I have witnessed how self-respect can be created through shame. Anyone who has been through military basic training knows what a bit of shame can do to build character. And that is what these lads lacked.

And now the complaint is at the human rights level. Losing your home because of your race, watching your family exterminated because of their creed -- these are human rights violations. Getting your butt painted is just desserts.

One encouraging point in the story, though, is the fact that the youths "presented paint-stained shoes and photos of their painted heads as evidence." Can you imagine what the Mexico City tabloids would have done with photographs of the painted buttocks?

If that champion of the poor -- trial attorney John Edwards -- is seeking political redemption, we may have just the case for him.


Laurie said...

Oh, I think it's funny. I wouldn't be too angry unless it was an unfashionable color. Blue or purple hair is a fashion statement for some kids. A few months ago someone added mustaches and beards to many political posters in the capital of Honduras. Even on billboards. All in one night all the signs were decorated. I thought it was a good joke.

Michael Dickson said...

I advocate the medieval stocks as punishment for graffiti brats. A 48-hour stint with one´s head and hands locked into the wood stocks as one sits on a hard stool in the public plaza, oh, that would be so very, very lovely.

Bet it would reduce graffiti too, a much-underestimated crime against society.

Brenda said...

I agree that the police are not there to mete out justice; but on the other hand how I laughed at what they did. Truly the boys deserved this rather than a slap on the wrist. I am sure this lesson made more of an impression than the fine did.

Steve Cotton said...

Laurie -- I roared when I read it. Then my lawyerly sude added a soft tsk, tsk. Then I lauhed again.

Michael -- If you and your new Green Party friends bring back the stocks, I will lobby to add litterers to list of potential inhabitants. My Celtic genes tell me that shame is an underused social tool.

Brenda -- Odd mix of emotions, isn't it? The head says it is not quite right, but the heart says it is spot on.

Anonymous said...

"Let the punishment fit the crime."

Being forcibly painted as punishment for spraying graffiti seems so very appropriate. And I don't think it would make its way very far up the list of human rights offenses ever committed in Mexico.

One wonders, though. Did the police use the perpetrators' own paint on them? Or do they carry their own paint for just such occasions?

I personally hope it's the former.

Kim G
Boston, MA
Where it's very hard to tag something that's already covered with snow.

ken kushnir said...

As a victim of graffiti, I would love to use that as punishment! In the town where I use to have a commercial building the city in their wisdom gave owners 72 hours to remove it. Well guess what, no one calls you back for days, then the city fines you 2500 dollars!
There has to be a punishment that causes either embarrassment or something worse, otherwise their "expression of art" will continue!
I am glad that I have trees and not walls down here! They don't make good canvases.

1st Mate said...

Maybe it'll start a trend! Only I think they should use fluorescent pink...THAT would be a deterrent!

Theresa in Mèrida said...


Kadmiel said...

this is a punishment that does fit the crime the police are not out there to justiy what punishment anyone should get but maybe next time the boys will think twice about spray painting something stupid on the street. or hopefully not at all

American Mommy in Mexico said...

If it were my kids who were the offenders - I would be very appreciative to those policemen. Punishment that fits the crime.

but - the painting of the buttocks may be a bit to far - the rest okay!

On Mexican Time said...

I think it was a good one too :)

Anonymous said...

Hopefully the judge takes this one step further and says 'You had money to buy spray paint. Now I expect you to buy the paint to cover up the mess you made and provide the labor to do it to the owners satisfaction.'
My boys still haven't forgotten a five gallon bucket of hot soap water and scrub brushes after 15 years or the whole apartment complex watching as they cleaned up the mud ball mess on a white block fence they and some of the other boys made. Judy

ken kushnir said...

11 Aye, 0 no's What,s that tell you?

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- You are correct. Using the perpetrators' weapons on them is almost karmic. Perhaps, karmic relief.

Ken -- The System seems to have the whole process backward -- as if the own's wall causes the problem.

1st Mate -- Pink it is!

Theresa -- Nothing more need be said.

Kadmiel -- Some lessons the police are well-suited to teach.

AMM -- Even though the buttock touch was the portion that disturbed me, I was not disturbed enough to criticize it. Had they been my boys, the paint would have simply been the target for my parental hand.

On Mexican Time -- I see a rend here.

Judy -- Based on the news story, it appears that the fine was it.

Ken -- Perhaps we shuld send our votes to the human rights commission? Serious Voice -- 0.