FOLLOWUP: City Attorney’s Office says graffiti law is enforceable again

(Reader photo from 2023, aftermath of what sender called a ‘rampage’ of vandalism north of The Junction)

The city’s graffiti law is enforceable again, according to this announcement this afternoon from City Attorney Ann Davison‘s office:

Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison today announced that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reversed a lower court ruling that halted the City of Seattle’s ability to enforce its misdemeanor graffiti ordinance.

City Attorney Davison appealed the lower court ruling on July 3, 2023 and made oral arguments to the Court on Jan. 9, 2024. The Court of Appeals made its ruling this morning.

“The people of Seattle won an important victory today when the Ninth Circuit upheld our City’s right to enforce our laws against graffiti property destruction,” said City Attorney Davison. “Graffiti is a massive problem for our City, costing taxpayers, businesses, and residents millions of dollars while creating widespread visual blight. We must have as many tools as possible to protect neighbors and residents impacted by graffiti.”

In June 2023, the U.S. District enjoined the City from enforcing its graffiti ordinance, Seattle Municipal Code 12A.08.020(A)(2).

We reported on that ruling here.

43 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: City Attorney's Office says graffiti law is enforceable again"

  • Shanti February 2, 2024 (4:18 pm)

    Thank goodness! My sister just left from visiting me here and she was shocked by how bad our city looks now.

  • Al King February 2, 2024 (4:29 pm)

    Now, the question will be: Will it be enforced? And if so, what will the penalties actually be. We’ll see.

  • Actually Mike February 2, 2024 (4:41 pm)

    A small victory for civilization.

  • Les February 2, 2024 (4:43 pm)

    Seattle likes new taxes so why not a spray paint tax of 100%  on every can of spray paint sold.Businesses could be exempt from the tax if they show a valid  business license or a resale permit.

    • Chuck Jacobs February 2, 2024 (5:15 pm)

      Did you know that you have to show identification to buy spray paint? Most taggers steal their paint anyway.

      • Thomas February 3, 2024 (2:59 pm)

        No you don’t! 

    • Big Dave February 3, 2024 (12:53 am)

      Those of us who use spray paint for it’s intended purpose say no.

    • Sunnyday February 3, 2024 (10:06 am)

      No! That punishes the regular use of spray paint by everyday people for one thing. And I use spray paint to spray out Graffiti.: which is already me using my free time and buying spray paint out of my own money(best price is on Amazon for a little case of six) …. Not a good idea

  • DRW February 2, 2024 (4:50 pm)

    Thank you City Attorney Davison!

  • ThisCommunityHates February 2, 2024 (5:04 pm)

    all a part of Davidson’s goal to overwhelm the public defense department. this is a mediocre attempt to solve a more nuisanced issue regarding lack of community resources. sad to see Seattle regressing.

    • Adam February 2, 2024 (5:42 pm)

      Just one more example of the MAGA extremist agenda. At this rate, we won’t be able to vandalize anything anymore. 

    • Al King February 2, 2024 (6:40 pm)

      Agree! Regressing back to right and wrong and the basic rule: crime doesn’t pay.

    • Jeff February 2, 2024 (6:57 pm)

      What’s the nuance?  I get the argument for crimes of desperation etc.   Vandalism is just destructive behavior.  Nobody commits vandalism to feed themself.  If anything, I have less sympathy for a person’s difficult circumstances after they tag my fence. It is nothing but damage to social cohesion, and I can’t think of a single reason not to punish it.

      • ThisCommunityHates February 2, 2024 (8:49 pm)

        lol if you paid attention you’d see that even Harrell knows that many of the people doing graffiti do so because of lack of an outlet. “…options for low-level offenders [which] will include community service work, mentorship programs, and alternative avenues for creative expression to discourage future offenses.” (emphasis mine)

        • Tony G February 2, 2024 (9:16 pm)

          How about this for a novel idea, don’t commit a crime and deface property that doesn’t belong to you. 

        • Delridge420 February 2, 2024 (11:24 pm)

          If they need an outlet, I’m fine with funding a blank wall for them go to town on. But tagging random buildings and signs accomplishes nothing and not only sucks to look at but it’s dangerous, see that story about that 14 year old that died on the monorail track last year if you want a good example. Davison blows as a city attorney but prosecuting this is one of the least offensive ways she can spend her time and resources.

        • WW Resident February 3, 2024 (6:56 am)

          Oh well if Harrell says it, it must be true!! What an appeal to authority fallacy!! Harrell has said a lot of things, especially while on the city council that even he is supposedly trying to fix now being mayor. 

          • ThisCommunityHates February 3, 2024 (3:00 pm)

            except y’all championed Harrell as a solution to all of Seattle’s woes. he was uplifted by regressionists as an outsider and a “law and order” candidate. I’m not appealing to Harrell’s authority but calling out the misalignment of politics within regressionists. y’all want an authoritarian state to crush undesirables, and tend to ignore the actual nuances of governing folks. even Harrell with all his talk is able to know when to govern at times, but that’s not something y’all regressionists seem to grasp.

    • WS Guy February 2, 2024 (7:16 pm)

      I hope Seattle regresses to the beautiful city that it was in the 1990s.  My friend visited from NYC and was shocked at how clean it was.  “Where is all the graffiti?” he asked.

      • Jeff P February 5, 2024 (8:26 am)

        Graffiti is art. I am sorry, it’s good a lot of the time. I know some tags are boring but seriously people need to get over it. Or travel more. It’s in EVERY CITY.

    • Tony G February 2, 2024 (7:17 pm)

      Public defense department? Not sure what you are talking about here, but I sure am glad somebody is attempting to do something about this blight that has beset the city. Let’s clean it up. 

  • abovealki February 2, 2024 (5:18 pm)

    Why was a city ordinance decided by a federal judge and then a federal appeals court? Isn’t this a law that should have been addressed through the state court system? Just curious.

    • Guy February 2, 2024 (5:50 pm)

      Federal courts have jurisdiction to resolve issues concerning the 1st Amendment right to free speech.

      • High School Teacher February 2, 2024 (8:19 pm)

        A Federal judge blocked the law because it was being used by Seattle police against protestors using sidewalk chalk on public sidewalks. This week, another Federal judge agreed that the law likely violates the First Amendment by banning chalk messages on public sidewalks, it doesn’t mean the whole law needed to be invalidated. 

        • Chemist February 3, 2024 (1:54 pm)

          I don’t think your statement about another Federal judge agreeing about chalk messages is an accurate summary of this, unless you’re talking about some judge other than this 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturning Judge Marsha Pechman’s prior order to strike the ordinance.  The appeal allows the ordinance to stand as written, with the city now being on alert for issues of enforcement that could be problematic.  Nobody is asserting “chalk is OK” when it comes to graffiti.

          • Community Member February 4, 2024 (12:46 pm)

            @ Chemist, I read the opinion and now I think are correct.  Thank you for the clarification. 
            The opinion\ states “In the district court’s view,
            because it found that the Local Ordinance as applied to
            individuals chalking messages on public sidewalks was
            likely to violate the First Amendment, the whole law had to
            be invalidated.”
            The 22-page Appeals Court opinion mentions chalk 14 times, and rejects much of the City’s argument, but ultimately states that just because part of a poorly-written local law violates the constitution does not require a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the local poorly-written law. They send the issue back to the District Court for continued litigation, and they confirm that the plaintiffs have standing.

    • ThisCommunityHates February 2, 2024 (8:42 pm)

      cause SPD wanted to squash all the dissent they were receiving in 2020 and arrested people for writing hurtful thing in chalk near their (eventually abandoned) precinct. their egos were bruised, so they had to take it out on someone. feds usually get involved when constitutional rights are infringed, but apparently even with a blatant example of cops using the law’s vagueness to violate those rights that wasn’t enough to force rewritte to be more specific…

  • Mr J February 2, 2024 (6:21 pm)

    Hilarious. Just remember that this law also can be used to fine homeowners and businesses for not cleaning up graffiti within a few days. We learned this after reporting the graffiti to the police, we had already taken care of it, but it adds insult to injury. My guess is that Ann is trying to recoup some costs on the huge trial she just blew costing taxpayers a ton of money. 

    • Byron James February 2, 2024 (8:50 pm)

      @Mr J. The city already had legal authority to fine businesses for graffiti. That’s not a new thing just because you were unaware of it.

  • Hmmm February 2, 2024 (7:23 pm)

    @thiscommunityhates – can you tell me what the “public defense department” is? Never heard of it.

    • K February 2, 2024 (7:53 pm)

      It’s a general term that encompasses the police and judicial system.  Also sometimes referred to as “Public Safety”.  It’s surprising you haven’t heard it before in conversation, as it is a common way to refer to this system without using specific titles afforded by a given jurisdiction, but glad we could introduce a reader to a new phrase here on the Blog!

      • ThisCommunityHates February 2, 2024 (11:48 pm)

        no, i was talking about the public defense department of King County which will be (probably) handling all the misdemeanors that enforcing this law creates.

  • Lauren February 3, 2024 (7:57 am)

    Imagine if this much energy was put into housing people. 

    • SillyBoy February 4, 2024 (5:29 pm)

      Well there has been over 253 million in energy spent last year. So there’s that.

    • Jeff February 5, 2024 (8:20 am)

      Exactly!!! This is a waste of money and time when we have people in tents on the street. Let’s focus on actual housing with structures, and not sweeps and graffiti! 

  • Most graffiti sucks February 4, 2024 (2:29 am)

    Most graffiti sucks. A very small amount is actually artistic and well executed. None of it belongs if it’s not sanctioned by the property owner. The person going by “ThisCommunityHates” advocates for a society governed by temper tantrums justified by excuses. If “regressionist” means someone who wants others to abstain from destroying property that doesn’t belong to them, then I’ll put that sticker on my car. 

    • ThisCommunityHates February 4, 2024 (3:42 pm)

      governed by temper tantrums? like the temper tantrum the SPD threw because of the mean chalk messages that kicked off this whole tax-payer funded court case? you’re a regressionist because you close your mind off to the multitudes of lived experiences folks other than yourself go through. ain’t no way being critical of the authority of the state is a “temper tantrum”; y’all foaming at the mouth to have the boot of the state crush people is more embarrassing anyway.

      • Al King February 4, 2024 (6:05 pm)

        Hates. reading your comments shows how badly and quickly we need these anti-graffiti laws implemented and enforced.

        • ThisCommunityHates February 5, 2024 (12:01 am)

          weird take. how does what i say at all expedite the need to arrest people? has graffiti popped up in my name since commenting or something? this is a reactionary comment. anything to actually say about the content of my comment, or would you rather not address it because you don’t have any way to rebuke it?

      • Jeff P February 5, 2024 (8:28 am)

        Just want to say I agree 100% with TCH on this. These people need an artistic outlet and not jail time. 

  • Jay February 5, 2024 (7:56 am)

    This law criminalizes drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. It’s not a debate about whether graffiti is good or bad, it’s about whether SPD and prosecutors should have the ability to arrest and criminally charge peaceful protesters for chalk on the ground. That’s why it’s a first amendment issue, it has nothing to do with spray paint. It’s sad to see everyone having a rant and temper tantrum about this without knowing the core fundamental detail of the case.

    • Al King February 5, 2024 (9:31 am)

      Jay. Drawing with chalk on the sidewalk has been going on as long as i’ve been alive. I certainly have no issue with it. My issue is with commenters who equate that with painting the side of a building/fence/road sign.

Sorry, comment time is over.