San Francisco graffiti artist charged with hate crime

July 21, 2010 3:57:57 PM PDT
A criminal court case has given the I-Team an inside look at some of the people behind the graffiti smeared across San Francisco.

At the center of the felony case is a 24-year-old San Francisco woman who became increasingly bold with her graffiti, until she got arrested.

For the past six months, bloggers were tracking a new graffiti tagger on the San Francisco scene -- KKKatie. She hit Muni, the McKinley statue on Baker Street, even the authorized work of a street artist. In that case, the bloggers speculated she was a spurned lover.

"I think she's very much an outsider in a community of people who are already outsiders," said Steve Rotman.

Rotman has written two books on San Francisco graffiti and street art. He says KKKatie alienated other taggers by using swastikas and the initials of the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.

He says, "It's a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, very diverse community of people who don't tolerate racism in any way, shape or form."

But, who was KKKatie? No one knew for sure until she began taking risks that finally landed her in jail.

"It was morning, the early, early morning of Bay to Breakers," Alton Moore recalled.

Moore parked his car along Hayes Street May 16, for a good view of the Bay to Breakers footrace. As the sun was coming up, he spotted a figure in dark clothing spray painting one "K", then another, on a line of Porta-potties.

"So, I blew my horn and said, 'What are you doing?'" he recalled. "And, she looked at me kind of startled, came to my car, opened my car door and said, 'It's none of your business, you (censored).'"

Moore says 24-year-old Katie Dunbar hurled racial slurs, questioned his sexuality, poked him and shook the spray paint can at him. He told her to leave his car and that he was calling 9-1-1.

"And, she said to me, 'If you do dial 9-1-1, I'm going to say you raped me and tried to kidnap me. Who do you think they're going to believe, a black man or a white woman?' And, I said, 'Well, let's see,'" Moore said.

Moore and Dunbar can be heard arguing on a 9-1-1 recording.

"Do you hear her?" Moore can be heard saying.

"I need to know where you are, so I can send the police," a dispatcher says.

"I'm trying to. I'm on Hayes and... This girl's crazy," Moore replies.

"She went and sprayed the last "K," came back to my vehicle... I'm leaning out the car. She did something kind of, like a cowboy would spin a gun around his finger. She did that with the can and went (motions), attempted to spray me as she left," Moore said.

Police detained Dunbar and took pictures of the writing on the portable toilets. "KKKatie is the harsh reality and down for whatever," it said. Back at Northern Station, Dunbar told officers the "KKK" did not stand for the white supremacist group, but for "Kooky, Krazy Kid."

Police cited her for misdemeanor graffiti and assault, and let her go.

"So, I called the next day and they told me she was released. Now, at this point, I was outraged. I was furious," Moore said.

Moore believes Dunbar should have been charged right away with felony hate crimes for the graffiti and for the racial slurs. The officers' captain defends the handling of the case.

"On top of the misdemeanor charges, they categorized the report as prejudice-based, tantamount to a hate crime, and referred it to our special investigations division which follows up on hate crimes," explained SFPD Captain Ann Mannix.

Once she was released, KKKatie went on a daylight graffiti spree, hitting the Decault toilet at Civic Center. From there, she headed toward City Hall, painting a public works van and a police barricade. She continued up Grove Street to the War Memorial Opera House where she tagged the walls and the billboards.

Police arrested Dunbar again and brought her to the psych ward at SF General, where she bit an officer's hand.

"There was a bunch of staff members that were around assisting and she had said, 'Hey, she's biting your hand.' Okay, so I pulled my hand away," recalled SFPD officer Joshua Enea.

Dunbar now faces three counts of felony vandalism, and prosecutors added felony charges for Moore's incident, assault with a hate crime enhancement and dissuading a witness.

At a recent hearing, some other street artists came to court, but not to show support for Katie Dunbar. They said they wanted to show their disgust for what she did.

"The number of black and Latino and Asian graffiti writers I know is huge and they are just as offended by that kind of symbolism as anybody else would be," Rotman says.

In all, Dunbar's graffiti has cost taxpayers more than $10,000 in damaged property and clean-up. It is not much money in the broad scheme of things, but she is just one person. Imagine what the bill would be if you added up all the graffiti, in addition to the visual impact on neighborhoods.

For some links on Katie Dunbar, her six-month life in "street art" and how it landed her in jail, check out the I-team blog.


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