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Detroit graffiti case draws attention to blurred line between political speech and crime

University of Michigan Professor Rosina Bierbaum says scandals like Flint's water crisis have eroded public trust in the safety of drinking water
Courtesy of Raiz Up
Antonio Cosme feels the city is trying to make an example of him, and fellow artist William Lucka.


When does graffiti cross the line from artistic political statement to crime?

That’s the question raised in the criminal charges leveled against Antonio Cosme. In November 2014, he allegedly spray painted “Free The Water,” with the image of a fist, on the side of a water tower in Highland Park.

A year and a half passed, and Cosme was charged with malicious destruction of property and trespassing. His pre-trial date is this Friday. He is currently raising money to support the court fees.

“We’re not dealing cocaine here,” Cosme said. “They’re really treating this as if it’s a serious issue that is causing anybody real harm.”

According to Cosme’s attorney Robert Mullen, the city brought charges against Cosme and fellow artist William Lucka through questionable use of two felony statutes.

“It’s important to realize, this [water tower] is a facility that had been abandoned for more than two years," Mullen said.

"And the question that we have [is], was this a proper use of the statute? Was this what the legislators intended when they passed these statutes? I think it’s a far stretch that the city of Detroit prosecutor is using these two felony statutes to charge these young men."

Cosme and Mullen sat down with us to talk more about the charges, and where they see the line between art and vandalism.

We were also joined by Megan Moslimani from the City of Detroit Law Department to take a look at the case.

“The city is only prosecuting those offenders who are coming out in the middle of the night and spraying graffiti on peoples’ buildings without their permission,” she said.

Listen to more in our conversation above.

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