I am writing in response to an article that appeared in the JP Gazette on Nov. 20 (“Activist fingered for protest graffiti on illegal scooter ads”) about a South Boston scooter business that had illegally parked billboard “trailers” on Centre Street as a way to market its company. After days of the Boston police being unable and/or unwilling to resolve the matter, a community activist marked on the billboard in protest of the company’s defiance of Jamaica Plain’s parking laws.
The most astounding part of the story was that the person who took action against the illegal billboards had to pay $1,000. Meanwhile, the business owners got away with paying a nominal amount for parking tickets and indicated they were not one bit deterred from someday commandeering parking spaces again, with total disregard for shoppers and citizens alike.
This incident evokes memories from three years ago, when the Turner Broadcasting company put up the battery-operated light boards around Boston as a “guerrilla marketing” campaign to promote a late-night cartoon show. Unfortunately, those electronic devices were mistaken for remote-controlled explosives, and this selfish stunt caused real anxiety and inconvenience to countless motorists and public safety personnel.
Boston’s ugly experience with this sort of advertising makes it all the more vexing that our court system so harshly penalized the community activist. As did Turner Broadcasting, the scooter business resorted to unethical practices in hopes of generating more profits. The scooter ad owner freely admitted that parking the ads for long periods on the street is a deliberate advertising technique the company uses. Without active law enforcement by Boston’s police and code enforcement officers, guerrilla advertising stands to become a regular occurrence.
The scooter business wanted $3,500 in restitution for lost business. Apparently, this amount reflected the half-day during which the billboard was getting the non-permanent marker wiped away. The math speaks for itself. Parking fines added up to an estimated couple hundred dollars over a few days, while the advertising was worth $3,500 for a few hours. The business people revealed their motives for breaking the law this way.
Some business people see ordinary citizens only as potential consumers and are willing to mar a community with eyesores like distracting billboards, flashing lights and obtrusive signage. Rather than serve as good stewards, they see public property as something to exploit for making money. What plays out is private gain at the expense of public resources. A critical role of our government is to prevent or act upon such abuses.
If the City of Boston wants to prevent the scourge of guerrilla advertising from worsening, I recommend that the City Council substantially increase the fines for these offending signs and facilitate their removal if the owners do not do so after ample notice—within a matter of hours, not days. In deference to the “laws” of the marketplace, I encourage everyone who reads this and cares about justice and fair play to not patronize Scooters Go Green unless they publicly apologize for their selfish and inconsiderate actions.