Graffiti is commonly associated with gangs, much of it claiming territory. But there's a whole other side to graffiti.
YAKIMA, WA - Graffiti is commonly associated with gangs, much of it claiming territory. But there's a whole other side to graffiti.
Officials estimate up to half of all graffiti is done by taggers, who are mostly teenagers. The trouble is differentiating tagging groups from local gangs.
It's a world most of us don't understand, the world of tagging.
"If we see a clean wall, we'll just wait for no traffic and just hit it up," David said.
One teenage tagger agreed to talk to NBC Right Now anonymously. We're calling him David.
"It just gives me a lot of adrenaline," David said. "Gives me a lot of adrenaline. And I'm just an adrenaline junkie."
You may think gangs and tagging groups are the same and you're not far off. David had to go through an initiation involving being jumped to be accepted. His group has so called "beefs" with other taggers, but the similarities end there.
"It's art to us," David said. So we just go out and do our art, do our thing. We're good at it and like gang they kill people."
David is currently on probation for graffiti through the juvenile court system. Where they hope to keep these taggers from transforming into full gang members.
"There is, I'm sure, a likelihood that a tagger is more likely to be a part of a gang than your average kiddo," Frank Murray of Yakima's Juvenile Court system said. "But I think not dramatically so."
David believes something can be done in Yakima to make these artistic taggers more socially accepted.
"A big wall," David said. "Just a huge wall and let everybody hit it up and paint over it and let everybody hit it up again."
Until then, David and his crew continue to toe the line between tagging and something much worse.
Frank Murray says that tougher penalties for these taggers isn't always the answer. He said the less overbearing and more supportive the system is, the less likely a teenager is to get in trouble.