We looked for a long time at the photographs of the graffiti that has been spreading noticeably across town in recent months.
Before a 15-year-old Payson boy was arrested and confessed for much of it, the graffiti we saw held a sinister tone. It represented some unknown who seemed to have moved into our town, suddenly and with bad intentions. Like broken windows, graffiti has the feeling of urban decay, of a town falling apart.
We received several calls and letters from readers concerned that the graffiti represented gang activity -- that the markings were only warnings of crime to come.
But when police made that arrest Friday night and we saw that the vandal was one of our own, one of our children, our perception changed.
As that 15-year-old faces charges for what he did, as he pays retribution for the damage he caused to many local businesses, this could be a turning point in his life. It could be a turning point for better or worse, depending on how we react as a community.
We can shame him, treat him as a criminal, or we can take another approach.
Don't misunderstand. We do not condone what this young man did. What he did was wrong. He cost many people in this community time and money cleaning up after him.
But he is not part of a gang.
Graffiti has a place in environments where hip hop culture is understood and appreciated -- like certain walls seen from the Metro in Paris, for example -- but Payson is not such a place. There is no place for graffiti in Payson.
And that's where our changing thinking begins. There is no place for graffiti in Payson, yet there are young people who are becoming interested in the art form.
Is there a way for us as a community to turn these youth away from vandalism toward a more legal form of self-expression?
As we looked at the photographs of graffiti created by this 15-year-old, our first thought was, "This kid is talented. It's too bad the way he chooses to express himself hurts so many people."
We would like to propose that Payson reach out to this young man and others like him as a community. Many small towns have reached this same crossroads. They have set up sanctioned and monitored walls for graffiti art. With written approval, artists can have time to create large-scale spray paint murals on these walls. The piece is left up for a time and then cleaned and offered to the next artist.
We would like to support the Parks and Recreation department in an effort to create such a wall. Perhaps near the skate park, or another appropriate area.
Discourage vandalism. Encourage creativity.
Many will read this and be appalled.
But we feel that if this is going to be a turning point in this young man's life, let's not send him down the wrong path with our pointed fingers, knitted brows and loud judgment.