Any writing, letter, picture, device or representation, painting, writing, soiling, marking or other defacing by whatever means, etching, obliterating, displaying and scratching: listed together, the legal definitions of graffiti as unwanted mark-making read like a comprehensive index of surface alterations, a presentation of everything that can possibly be done to change the appearance of a surface. Having established as broad a scope as possible for the physical designation of graffiti, the law selects its targets according to their damaging or offensive character and sets in place removal mechanisms which are based on these contingent value judgments. Graffiti does not damage private property or offend against public order until the agenda is set, the call is made and the report is filed. There is no default damage setting, there is only a case by case judgment of what is considered damaging, what is ignored or appreciated.
Graffiti damage, offence and vandalism are soft, contingent, qualitative assessments which were set in place as part of government agendas to protect private property and control public order. They are symbolic as much as they are material, as graffiti violates not just physical matter, but also the systems that afford value to matter. Disrupt them, and you disrupt the social, moral and economic postulates that constitute the very backbone of neoliberal society, where capital buys privilege and order is created through exclusion. A tag on a wall is not simply a crime against the surface render or the legal owner of the property, it is a crime against the very idea of property as an exclusionary right and guarantor of precedence (keeping others out and rejecting all unapproved interventions).