Surprisingly, Man recalls, the link between graffiti and gangs was not implicit in its beginnings. When he was still in high school he’d encounter gang members on the streets. They’d ask him which gang he was a part of he’d respond, “I don’t bang, I write.” They’d shake his hand and move on.
“Back then,” he says, “It was like, ‘You’re out here on the street doing your own dirt so we’ll leave you alone.’ It was two different paths.” In the ‘90s all that changed. Law enforcement started treating tagging as an inherently gang-related activity, targeting the artists and locking them up.
“Eventually,” Man says, “a lot of the kids said, ‘Screw it, you’re going to treat me like a gang member, I’m going to to act like it.’ That was unfortunate. We’re still trying to recover.” For him, graffiti was a culture that was passed down from generation to generation of taggers, but in the ‘90s, that chain was broken. “We used to have rules growing up, like, you didn’t tag on churches, you didn’t tag on cars or personal property, all these codes of ethics and that’s out the window now because the whole culture wasn’t passed down to them so now kids don’t know there are rules. They don’t know what’s right or wrong in terms of our graffiti culture.”