There’s graffiti as far as the eye can see. It's all over the outside walls of Chris Sorensen's art studio in downtown Fresno. While art is encouraged, tagging is not.
“The whole graffiti/mural thing was cool until the violence started. And the violence is a recent thing,” Kerby Smith, artist liaison at Sorensen’s studio.
Smith says a visiting artist painting a mural outside was caught in the cross fire between two gangs.
“When he came to lunch with us, he held out his hand with an empty 9mm shell case,” said Smith.
It's all happening near a Fresno landmark. The famous sign, “Fresno, the best little city in the U.S.A.” happens to be right next door to Sorensen’s studio. Once full of artistic murals, it’s now covered in graffiti. Even the likeness of Sorensen himself has been ruined by taggers.
On another wall, Smith shows CBS47 a recently painted mural of a monkey's face. He doesn't think it'll last long.
No less than 30 minutes later, four taggers show up. Sure enough, the monkey's face is painted over. Off camera, the taggers say this is their hobby and that they aren't part of a gang. Fresno police say they've seen taggers becoming increasingly violent.
“We're seeing taggers go after each other with baseball bats, knives, guns. We've had several shootings and even some murders,” said Lt. Burke Farrah of the Fresno Police Department.
Lt. Farrah says once graffiti is allowed it's almost impossible to take it back. At 87 years old and nearly deaf, Sorensen is still making art. He just wants a safe space to continue his work.
“The thing that Chris has always believed in is providing affordable, safe space for artists to work,” said Smith.
The studio isn’t sure whether how it will deal with tagging in the future. If you see tagging in Fresno, you can call 621-TAGS and a crew will clean it up.