Merced Church Holds Graffiti Competition

Fresno, CA No home or business is safe from the destructive spray of graffiti artists. Merced police say they've seen a recent spike in the crime. Officers have made 75 arrests so far this year compared to that same number for all of 2007. And that's not the only disturbing trend.

Allen Adrian, Merced Police Graffiti Officer: "We're seeing such a young age of kids getting arrested, 9, 10, 12 years old being arrested for doing thousands of dollars in damage."

Rui Machado used to be one of those illegal taggers.

Rui Machado: "We would go out and we called it bombing. You just go out and hit your name on Highway 99 as many times as you can, you know?"

But now he's turned his life around and turned his spraying into an art form. Machado paints murals like this one and let's kids come to his house to spray pieces of plywood.

Rui Machado: "That kind of keeps them from going out and doing it illegally."

Now he and other Christian Life Center members are hoping to give more young graffiti artists a positive outlet by holding a competition at the church on Saturday.

Caesar "C Flow" Johnson: "We're not condoning vandalism, but we are endorsing the art itself."

Caesar Johnson admits some people are concerned that the contest will encourage criminal behavior. But he says the goal is to develop relationships with the kids and offer them an alternative to the streets.

Caesar: "We want to be able to help people change not just what they do, but change themselves. So if we can change the person, we can change the behavior."

Johnson adds that the church will be working with police to keep the competition under control. And officers plan to step up patrols after the event in case anyone is inspired to take their art where it's not wanted.

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