April 25, 2024
The City of Seattle announced that it would be halting its enforcement of property crimes related to graffiti.

SEATTLE — The City of Seattle announced this week that it would be halting its enforcement of property crimes related to graffiti in the wake of a ruling from a district court judge. But what does that mean for other cities with similarly worded laws?
The injunction issued Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman asserts that Seattle’s property damage laws surrounding graffiti pose “a real threat to censorship.” That’s part of a larger lawsuit stemming from the arrest of four people who were arrested for writing BLM and anti-police slogans in chalk on concrete barriers outside SPD’s East Precinct.

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In the lawsuit, comparisons are made to instances where pro-police slogans were freely written in sidewalk chalk outside City Hall during a 2020 rally. Judge Pechman’s concerns center around how Seattle’s existing laws give police discretion to make arrests based on the messaging of the chalk or graffiti itself. Those laws are also modeled exactly off of Washington’s state property crime laws.
That carries a few implications — first, what does this mean for enforcing more traditional illegal graffiti?
Deborah Ahrens is a Vice Dean and law professor at Seattle University. She argues that this ruling won’t turn Seattle into a tagger’s paradise.
“Its not open season for taggers,” she told KIRO 7. “I do not think that this is going to be license for people to go out and create thousands of dollars in property destruction.”
Video: Is graffiti legal in Seattle now…?
Even so, this Seattle-centric decision has potential to cause ripple effects across the state. Seattle isn’t the only city to have modeled their laws off of the states. That list also includes other nearby cities like Tacoma, Kent and Auburn.
“If I were a city prosecutor in another city or jurisdiction where I was trying to enforce a very similarly written ordinance, I would have to be at least somewhat nervous,” said Ahrens.
We reached out to Tacoma, who confirmed that they are at least considering changes to their laws after this ruling. Kent’s carries an age restriction as well, while Auburn’s mirrors the state version but is also more specific.
If the city of Seattle wants to make the current ordinance constitutional, its city council will also need to amend it.

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