What’s the statute of limitations on Stupid Teenage Pranks?
I think I’m in the clear, so a confession: In the 1980s, my knucklehead buddies and I were involved in a lengthy string of lower-case midnight mischief. Nothing serious — pranks on the homes of our friends, involving the occasional water balloon and enough toilet paper to serve a mid-size city through the COVID-19 pandemic. One target was the posh home of a VERY prominent local public figure, whose daughter was a friend of ours, and no. I’m not giving up the name.
You can just wonder.
We got pretty good at it. I was never a baseball player, but I could thread the needle with a roll of TP between any two tree branches up to about 30 feet high.
We were never caught, except once when a girl’s dad chased us away with a shotgun. He gave us a good scare. Good thing we had a car full of toilet paper.
It was a smaller town then. If the cops had rolled up on us (“rolled up,” get it?) they most likely would have lectured us, took away our paper ammo, and sent us home with a scolding.
In the years since, midnight teen adventures have taken on higher stakes, and this week, we saw felony arrests of at least four local teens, for two incidents that had nothing in common except they involved teenagers who now face potentially serious, life-altering consequences from The Law.
One involved teens trying to deliver a social justice message, so you can’t call it a prank. The other was a result of teens testing limits in a damaging, dangerous way.
First, the dangerously stupid: Two teens were arrested after they posted a Tik Tok video showing them breaking into Six Flags Magic Mountain, climbing the park’s observation tower and discharging a fire extinguisher. One of them is shown standing on the outside ledge of the tower, dangling one foot 300 feet in the air, one slip away from certain death.
Boys. Let’s count the dumb things: One, breaking into private property. Two, damaging private property. Three, dangling from a tower, risking life and limb. Four, posting a Tik Tok video. You might have been caught anyway — Magic Mountain has security cameras — but the video was like a billboard with your mug shots and home addresses on it, saying, “arrest me now.”
The other incident is much more complicated.
On Juneteenth — the anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in America — a group of teens went to Cinema Drive in the middle of the night to paint three giant letters on the street: “BLM.” No. It doesn’t stand for “Bureau of Land Management” anymore, which, as an aside, has complicated AP style in news copy. BLM is the widely recognized acronym for Black Lives Matter, or Black lives matter, which are in fact two different things, but, details.
Deputies went out to investigate. The kids’ information was taken and they were sent home. The city of Santa Clarita called a cleaning crew out the next day to remove the paint, and the cost was about $2,300 — even though the kids and their attorney insist they were using water-soluble, non-toxic, washable paint.
If that’s the case, you’d think a decent garden hose and an $8 nozzle from Lowe’s would have done the trick. But, this is government. The operation involved a vacuum truck to suck up the paint to keep it out of the storm drain.
Let’s see. Do you think I can piss off the Black Lives Matter supporters, the city of Santa Clarita and the SCV Sheriff’s Station, all in one nugget?
The way I see it, everyone did something wrong here.
First: It’s arrogant of the kids who did the painting to think, just because they believe in their message and it’s a positive thing to say Black lives do, in fact, matter, that it makes it OK to paint it in 30-foot letters on a public street. If anyone wants to play the First Amendment card, suppose this: What if those letters were KKK instead of BLM? Everyone would be rightly screaming that it should have been removed promptly.
The First Amendment doesn’t just protect “good” speech, and it doesn’t mean you can use a public street as your personal canvas. And, if you want to paint your message in 30-foot letters on a street you’d better be willing to tolerate anyone else doing the same with theirs. Something tells me that’s not likely.
Still, is there a double standard? As some pointed out, kids’ chalk drawings on sidewalks have been applauded during the pandemic as they’ve expressed support for law enforcement, health care workers, the community, etc. Cleanup crews and vacuum trucks weren’t summoned. Is the difference chalk vs. paint, including washable, non-toxic paint? I suppose that’s plausible. I assume this means any unauthorized 30-foot painted message would be removed just as promptly. Which, frankly, they should. That being said…
I know. My teenage TP adventures weren’t in pursuit of social justice. So, I can’t stake out moral high ground. But on some level, I can relate to the kids who thought it would be a good idea to paint “BLM” on a street in the middle of the night. It was probably quite an adventure. And their arrest seems like an over-reach to me. It wasn’t the most well-thought-out thing for them to do, but I’d sure be a lot more comfortable if they’d been sent home with a lecture and a demand that they promise not to do such a thing again. Maybe make them come out the next day and help with cleanup.
Instead, we have an estimate of $2,300 from the city for the cleanup, and two teens arrested, many weeks later, after a lengthy investigation by the sheriff’s station’s COBRA crime unit, which typically focuses on things we more traditionally consider “crime,” like armed robbery. Cripes. These kids didn’t shoot anybody.
Then we get to the “who” of who was arrested. Out of the 15-20 kids who participated, six were detained that night. All were let go. About two months later they arrested a 17-year-old, whose identity has not been released, and 18-year-old Quynn Lubs.
Things that make you go, “Hmm…” Lubs happens to be an outspoken critic of the City Council, particularly Councilman Bob Kellar, a former police officer. She’s testified at council meetings calling for his resignation over his “proud racist” comment made 10 years ago at a rally opposing illegal immigration. (I’m not going into the weeds of those details here; I’ve written about them before and they’re easy to find…)
If nothing else, it seems like the authorities failed to read the room. Again. They’re using an anvil when a feather would do. I believe in law and order as much as the next guy, but a FELONY? Seems over the top, even if you believe they shouldn’t be painting BLM or anything else on public streets.
Does it prove anything nefarious on the part of the authorities? No, it’s not proof. But it doesn’t pass the smell test, either. Kind of makes me wish I still had that stockpile of toilet paper…
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.