Vandalism in Singapore: then and now

About 16 years ago, a then-17 years old American youth named Michael Fay was caught and deemed guilty of vandalism and theft.  He was adjudged under the1966 Singapore Vandalism Act to have willfully damaged personal property (damaging cars with hot tar, paint cans, paint removers and hatchets) and stolen public property (road signs), and was sentenced to 4 months in jail, fined S$3,500 and 6 strokes of the cane.  His accomplice, Andy Shiu, who pleaded not guilty, received 8 months in jail and 12 strokes of the cane.  Even a plea for clemency by then-US President Bill Clinton could not spare the US teenager from the rod.  The issue attracted international press coverage, often to the detriment of Singapore’s international image, and led many around the world to know of Singapore as the island state where gum is banned and people are caned for vandalism.

Recently, 32-year old Swiss international Oliver Fricker was arrested for allegedly breaking into a restricted area and for spraying graffiti on a train parked in a depot.  Another individual, British citizen Llyod Dane Alexander (nicknamed “McKoy Banos”) was also named on the police’s charge sheet, presumably since the graffiti on the train bears his trademark signature. The incident reportedly took place on 16 May, but was only reported to the police on 19 May. Even though the beautiful and artistic rendition of “McKoy Banos” was washed away soon after, the train was still allowed to ply its routes across the region, where a certain Ong You Yuan captured and immortalized scenes of the bombed train onto Youtube.  Last I read, Oliver is being held on bail of S$100,000, after failing to appeal to reduce his bail to S$40,000.

It is a foregone conclusion that Oliver Fricker will be found guilty by the authorities for trespassing.  What is worth observing is whether our government has made any progress from its Michael Fay days – would McKoy Banos’ graffiti be considered a work of art, or be lumped together with Michael Fay’s handiwork 16 years ago and be adjudged as vandalism?

Everyone is counting on Oliver being sentenced to a few strokes of the cane.  I would urge the authorities to think twice for the sake of our nascent arts scene, and stop at as high a fine as the law would allow for.  Spare the rod, on the graces of the arts scene that the National Arts Council and other related government agencies are working so hard to nurture.

Oliver would invariably be deported. SMRT should immediately re-invite him, together with the real McKoy (Llyod Dane Alexander) and other graffiti artists back to Singapore, for a graffiti marathon, to spruce up our extremely forgettable MRT trains. That, imho, would kick ass! Please sir, let’s bring some color into our public transport shall we?

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.