Did tagger "deserve" to die?

A.J., a friend of Jason Kitchekeg who died after jumping into the Chicago River to avoid police, creates a mural for his friend on a wall. (William DeShazer/Tribune)
There's some pretty cold remarks over at the Tribune about the tagger who died fleeing the cops by jumping into the Chicago River.
He and two friends had allegedly been caught spray painting an abandoned South Side building and, because he was on one-year probation for a prior offense, he might have been sent to prison if caught. Jumping into near-freezing water--as sailors know--can kill you quickly, if not instantly.
Some of the posts say that the young man deserved to die; he had been breaking law. He had been caught several times before. While he supposedly "loved the city," according to a friend, he showed tremendous disrespect for it by binge painting on private property.
Others say that he was some one's son, and that he deserved better. What he was doing was art. The cops should be blamed for his death; they should have been out chasing bangers and dopers. The buildings he was defacing weren't private property because the owners had "abandoned" them.
My favorite response, posted by "Brad," may or may not have been serious, you can never tell these days: If only they had legalized tagging, this would have never happened." It was either wonderful parody of folks who say that if they only would legalize drugs....  If it wasn't sarcasm, then a truly dopey individual is manning the keyboard.
One of the more intelligence ones came from "Lakeview Greg:" 

The guy was on probation for damage to property, taking a plea, had had a bunch of stuff before. And on probation, he decides to go tagging. On ANY level, this is not a smart thing to do. My question is, where were his friends to tell him "no?"
As for why CPD was chasing him, someone called in and reported people tagging.
It may be art to some, but it isn't to others. Why force your art on the rest of the public, especially un-solicited art.

By the way, did you think it was proper for the Tribune (and me) to print the above picture of an unidentified tagger spraying a tribune to the Kitchekeg? Was it touching or wrong to give tribute to someone breaking the law by showing someone breaking the law?


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  • You ended your article with this question... "Was it touching or wrong to give tribute to someone breaking the law by showing someone breaking the law"? I didn't know this man, nor do I know anyone he is affiliated with. I did, however, read that his friends had permission from the owner of the building to paint a memorial of their friend. In that case, there are no laws being broken. Now on to the topic of this discussion. No, he did not deserve to die. No one can argue the fact that he was knowingly committing a crime... an innocent crime, yet still a crime... but I don't believe he "deserved" to die over some paint on a wall. It's a wall. It's still standing, and his art is most certainly removeable. That was his life. It's sad to see someone so young lose their life over something so trivial. I believe graffiti artists are actually extremely talented. I just find it a shame that they haven't learned a way to express themselves in a manner that is appropriate. I can appreciate art in all forms, but a lot of people can't. It's a matter of learning to respect oneself and each other. Too bad this young man had to learn the hard way. Senseless.

  • I resent anyone referring to this person as anything other than a vandal or grafitti 'felon'. I appreciate art like anyone--in the right venue. This type of vandalism costs taxpayers millions and millions a year to clean up. Could that money be used for the benefit of everyone, or should we just keep throwing it away on this? Think about that when you don't have new books/teachers at your school! That said, of course no one 'deserved' to die over it.

  • In reply to commonsenseplze:

    I agree, he was not a criminal. Those who know art know that it is art. Those who do not appreciate life do not understand the life of art. He and others are not criminals but artist. Art is a way to express yourself and maybe the city should spend more money on programs for those who are creative. It was an abandon building not a store or home. There are so many other important things out in the streets to worry about and keep people safe. Maybe if the guys were approached without being scared or threaten then Jason may have still been here today. My heart goes out to him and those who are close to him. The lord works in his own way and will take care of whats left behind. Rest In Peace Jason K.

  • These extreme reactions show that an awful lot of people have trouble with concepts like contradiction, balance and nuance.

    For instance, on the question of is tagging art or a crime, the answer is yes. I personally don't like tagging - it seems like a glorified version of the doodles I used to make in the margins of my notebooks during boring classes. But my personal opinion does not determine whether a given work is "art" or not. There are three solid black "paintings" in the modern wing of the Art Institute - I daresay tagging takes a quite a bit more talent than that, but someone determined those paintings are "art".

    But the quality of the work also does not determine whether or not tagging is a crime. Da Vinci could have painted The Last Supper on the side of someone's home (without permission) and it would still have been a crime, the quality of the work notwithstanding. On the other hand, business owners and municipalities have been known to hire taggers to paint walls, etc. Anything done to property without the consent of the owner or responsible party is a crime.

    Also, Kitchekeg was an artist, a criminal AND someone's son. His death was tragic and will be mourned by his family. At the same time, he made choices - the choice to commit another crime while on probation, the choice to flee from cops, and the choice to jump in the water. So his death is certainly not an outrage. He didn't "deserve" to die any more than a careless jaywalker "deserves" to get hit by a bus, but sometimes events just play out.

    Kitchekeg, like all of us, was human, which means that he was neither a hero nor a villian. He just was.

  • I want grafitti artists to work for society instead of against it.Previously I suggested that they manufacture t-shirts and jackets for the CTA to sell to help with the budget
    Another idea I am pushing is a hip hop mall.This would attract customers from all over the would.The whole place could be covered with grafitti or tattoo style art.Besides being an economic engine,it could provide a safe place for young people to congregate.Maybe it could be called "The Positive Flow Mall "If there was enough demand,a downtown version or outlet version could be added.A mini version could be set up with kiosks at O'Hare and be up and running in a matter of months. Big name rappers with clothing lines could have factory stores,so they would help publicize the malls.

  • Dienne, your comment was excellent. Many of the students I work with have social disorders, some are mentally ill. They often express what they can't say through their art, often by tagging or joining gangs. I wonder if this person had a condition that resulted in his choice to jump into a freezing river, rather than submit to police. The penalty for this crime, even if self-inflicted, is way too severe.

  • Grafitti will never leave and will always be a part of Chicago for as long as we all shall live. A city with a rich history of the grafitti subculture, of which Jason was a part of, continues to provide an avenue for young teens of all ages and backgrounds to express themselves. The age old question "is it art?", really isn't fitting in this context. It's just a question to stir up debate. Jason died doing what he loved. 99% of your readers will never have a mural painted in their honor when they expire and most likely, they were never part of a subculture that would come together with donations to help families cover funeral expenses. Grafitti in Chicago is like that, and you don't have to die in the line of duty to receive an outpouring of support. Just contribute to the scene and keep pushing it forward.

  • It's funny how we will sell space to multibillion dollar corporations to advertise their products because we "need" them, yet people get pissed off when someone writes their name or paints a piece on the side of a building for lease.
    I find it interesting that people think they should be able to sanction where art belongs and "doesn't" belong. Graffiti and other art is part of human existence and our evolution, it's a way to communicate with one another and express ideas and feelings. It's not going away because people will always feel the need to create and express. Many people who do graffiti aren't in gangs, misunderstood or suffer from mental illness. They come from various socioeconomic backgrounds and have differing motives as to why they write graffiti. Why are so many people in our culture so conditioned to believe that graffiti is a horrible crime? You can love a city and be a graffiti writer at the same time. RIP Jason Kitchekeg, in solidarity.

  • In reply to applejay:

    As an artist myself, I can appreciate your thought and sentiment behind your comment. Yet, I have to wonder, would you feel the same if an "artist" decided to express himself on the side of your house without your permission? Graffiti artists have done some beautiful work, without a doubt. However, no one holds the right to deface property that does not belong to him or her without consent.

  • In reply to joupedamom:

    theres kind of an unwritten code between graffiti writers. you dont write on peoples houses, churches, tombstones, or peoples cars. cetain things like that are just disrespectful, even if it is art. most graff writers go to abandoned buildings or get permission. another thing to remember is that writers dont have the mindset of going out to ruin or deface something. theyre just expressing themselves through art

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