Noe Valley Voice September 2002

'ROC' Strikes 24th Street Shops Again

By Kathy Dalle-Molle

For the second summer in a row, a graffiti vandal who uses the name "ROC" has permanently scarred a string of storefronts along 24th Street, causing thousands of dollars in damage and an endless amount of fury for Noe Valley shopkeepers.

The most recent vandalism took place during the early morning hours of June 19, when "ROC," a 17-year-old male who has a history of graffiti vandalism, used hydrofluoric acid cream and a shoe polish sponge to etch his moniker in white capital letters on close to a dozen store windows on the south side of 24th Street between Castro and Church. Although the San Francisco Police Department has put a warrant out for ROC's arrest on charges of felony and misdemeanor vandalism, in late August he remained at large.

"We're 100 percent positive who the suspect is," said Officer Christopher Putz, head of the Police Department's Graffiti Abatement Program. Putz said the "clean" graffiti style used this time around is identical to the style used previously by ROC and that police have searched his residence and found evidence linking him to the June 19 attack.

Acid etching -- in which vandals use chemical creams purchased through art supply sites on the Internet or at arts and crafts stores and that are intended for decorative uses, such as frosting or stenciling glass -- is a highly destructive form of graffiti. Unlike spray-paint graffiti which can be painted over, scrubbed off, or otherwise covered up, acid-painted graffiti eats through glass and becomes permanent almost instantaneously, so shopkeepers are left with no other choice but to replace the graffitied window.

"ROC has done a tremendous amount of damage," said Putz, adding that plainclothes officers from the Mission and Ingleside stations were actively looking for him. "He's in hiding and he knows we're looking for him, so he's making himself very difficult to find. He's probably staying with friends, using back doors, going in and out at odd hours."

Noe Valley shops whose windows were tagged include Cotton Basics, Noe Valley Bakery, Astrid's Rabat Shoes, Panetti's Gifts, the French Tulip, Designers' Club, Tuggey's Hardware, and the 24th Street Cheese Company.

"It's going to cost about $1,000 for us to replace the window," said Nancy Ford, manager of the 24th Street Cheese Company. "I'm so angry about this!"

"It's just really discouraging," said Kay Lamming, manager of Cotton Basics on the corner of Castro and 24th.

Lamming received an estimate of $1,500 to replace the window that ROC damaged on the 24th Street side of her shop. But she still is not sure whether to go ahead. "I could replace the window, but this guy or someone else is going to come by and etch or paint again," she said. "I'm at the point where I don't even see the graffiti on the window anymore, it's happened so many times. It's just too depressing."

In July 2001, ROC used a drill bit to etch his name on stores on the north side of 24th Street. He was eventually apprehended and arrested. But because ROC is a juvenile, his criminal record has been sealed. Consequently, neither police nor officials at the Juvenile Probation Department would provide information on prior arrests, convictions, or sentencing.

However, Putz did tell the Voice that his prime suspect lives a 10-minute walk away from 24th Street. Although Putz believes it's a coincidence that ROC made his two hits of Noe Valley in the summer, he thinks it's no coincidence he chose 24th Street.

"It's a high-visibility area," Putz said. "James Lick Middle School is nearby, so he knows Lick students are going to see his work, as are people who catch Muni here. Areas with large Muni lines are very attractive to graffiti vandals. This kind of graffiti is all about attracting attention, getting your name out there, and getting people to know you."

But merchants like Marjory Panetti, whose gift shop window still bears ROC's signature, are the ones who will remember him the longest -- and not fondly. "I'm usually pretty tolerant of young people. Youthful high spirits of boys is one thing, but a person signing his name with this [acid] graffiti is looking for more than a momentary thrill," she said. "I was pretty devastated when I saw the window."

Panetti said she is getting an estimate to replace her entire storefront window, and the security system around it. "I guess we just have to accept that this is the cost of doing business in this city. I mean, what am I going to do, install death rays in the window?"

Talk of Filing a Civil Suit

Carol Yenne, owner of Small Frys children's clothing store on the opposite side of 24th Street, had her window etched by ROC during the summer of 2001. And she forked over $1,700 to replace it. So when she heard about this year's vandalism, Yenne contacted some of the merchants who were hit and encouraged them to file police reports.

She also discussed the possibility of filing a civil suit against ROC's family, to seek compensation for the damage done to their shops. "When he continues to do damage like this, I believe his family needs to be held accountable," said Yenne. "Most merchants can't afford to replace their windows because we've got a $500 or $1,000 deductible on our insurance. That means the cost of the window is going to have to come out of our own pockets."

Other merchants want ROC to pay back the money himself. "I think he should earn the money to replace the windows by working after school," said Cotton Basic's Lamming.

Said the Cheese Company's Ford, "He needs to make remunerations or go to jail."

But once ROC is apprehended, it will be up to a Juvenile Court judge to determine what happens to him.

According to Cassie Coleman of Juvenile Probation, punishment for a repeat juvenile graffiti offender such as ROC can range anywhere from participating in a short-term rehabilitation program along with community service, to being sent to Log Cabin Ranch, an incarceration and rehabilitation facility in La Honda, Calif. Offenders typically serve a nine- to 12-month sentence at the facility. In any case, she says, the juvenile also may be required to pay a fine and reimburse his victims.

Officer Putz thinks ROC deserves the maximum. "My hope is that ROC will be incarcerated until he is 18 and that he will have to pay restitution to the victims. He should be involved in a program where he will be required to pick up garbage and clean graffiti in areas he has vandalized."

Meanwhile, Putz urged the merchants to stay on top of reporting graffiti to police. "It's great that the merchants came together and talked about the situation. Since there were multiple victims filing reports, I picked up the case and worked on it right away, which wouldn't have happened had just one person filed a report."

Noe Valley Beat Officer Lorraine Lombardo is also on the lookout, and has approached ROC's parole officer to ask if the merchants can attend ROC's next court date. Says Lombardo, "I want the judge to know how the merchants feel and to hear them out. The judge should know how sick they are of this."