‘I would do it again’
Anti-gay messages inspire passersby to spontaneous vandalism
When Jack Tocco arrived in California a couple of weeks ago, he was prepared to spend his summer relaxing before heading back to his native Michigan to start a Ph.D. program. He did not plan on being arrested. On Tuesday afternoon, June 14, his plans changed.
Walking down J Street, Tocco encountered a truck emblazoned with anti-homosexual messages. The truck, which regularly parks on the streets of downtown, is outfitted with signs displaying biblical references, information on pro-gay-tolerance bills facing the California Legislature, and the Ten Commandments, and it sports a large picture of two men kissing with a slashed out circle over them. The messages include a verse from the book of Luke, which reads, “It would be better for him to be thrown in to the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” This verse combined with the statements painted in bold letters “homosexuality is a sin” and “AIDS is death” infuriated Tocco, who was just passing by. From his perspective, while the signs fall short of directly “advocating the murder of gay people,” they do encourage violence against them. “Even if you don’t explicitly say it, it doesn’t take a genius to understand the force of his message,” he said.
“I just had this very visceral reaction,” Tocco said of what happened next. He walked into the nearby hardware store and purchased a can of silver spray paint.
When Tocco returned to the busy intersection of 16th and J streets, he was both “terrified and pleased” to find that the truck was still there. He then proceeded to graffiti the offending vehicle.
“I knew it was vandalism. I knew this guy had his First Amendment rights,” Tocco explained. “But as much as my stomach was churning at that point, I knew I would feel even worse if I just walked on and did nothing.”
As he was spelling out his protest, a middle-aged woman stopped him. She asked if he had another can of paint. According to Tocco, she told him that she’d been wanting to do something about the truck for ages. She moved along when Tocco told her he didn’t have another can. He finished up his addition, which read, “Homophobia is a disease” and “God loves us all” in silver letters down one side of the truck. When he moved on to paint on the back of the truck, the vehicle’s owner grabbed the can of paint out of his hand. According to the Sacramento Police Department, the truck’s owner was a 63-year-old white male. SN&R was unable to contact the driver.
Police were already nearby when Tocco told the owner that he was not going to run away and that he was free to call the police if he felt the need to. As the police were approaching the scene, the same middle-aged woman who had just minutes earlier asked Tocco for another can of paint returned with a Sharpie marker and began writing her own message on the truck.
“She just started writing on the truck, right there in front of our officers,” explained Sacramento Police Department spokesman Sgt. Terrell Marshall. He added that the woman “was not cooperative. Our officers had to use control holds on her.”
The two vandals were placed under arrest, handcuffed and instructed to wait on the curb while they were being issued notices to appear in court on July 14 to face a misdemeanor charge.
Sitting on the curb, the two attracted catcalls, thumbs up and homophobic slurs from the passersby in rush-hour traffic heading out of downtown. Reflecting on the events, Tocco sees his actions as being part of a larger struggle. “It was done out of some sense of civil disobedience,” he said. “This kind of hatred cannot sit on a corner and be allowed as if people of conscience do not see it.” Tocco knew he was breaking the law but felt that “the message that homosexuals deserve to die” warranted him taking a risk in order to counter it. “I knew that this person had his First Amendment rights to free speech. I also knew I was committing a crime.” Now facing a misdemeanor charge of vandalism and having been arrested, Tocco admitted, “I would do it again.”