Knuckle tattoos by Chris Compton of Broken Lantern Tattoo, Charleston, SC.
It hasn't been that long since state-wide tattoo bans in the US were lifted. Oklahoma was the last state to legalize tattooing in 2006. And I was just reminded that South Carolina is reaching its 10th year of legal tattooing since 2004. It's amazing to think just how much has changed in such a short period of time.
According to SC Now's Morning News, more than 100 licensed tattoo studios are operating around the state, and despite the fear that legalizing "would invite drug use, pornography and assorted other evils," that hasn't happened. In fact, there has hardly been any real action against tattoo studios in South Carolina. As the article explains:
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control [DHEC], which regulates tattoo parlors, has taken action against only 12 shops since 2006, according to records obtained by The Post and Courier through a Freedom of Information Act request.South Carolina has some of the strictest tattoo laws on the books, including a prohibition on neck, face, and head tattoos, and the above-mentioned rule against opening a shop 1,000 feet from a church, school or playground. The DHEC has two health inspectors who make their rounds around the state every three years to ensure that each studio is complying with the regulations. And so, in light of such oversight, it's interesting that so few violations of the regs have been found.
It was the concern over health risks, particularly hepatitis, that led to South Carolina's tattoo ban (among other states). The problem was that a blanket ban violated the rights to free expression of artists and collectors. [I've written about tattoos and First Amendment issues here.]
It was this right to free expression that formed the basis of White v. South Carolina, a case challenging South Carolina's tattoo ban, which was appealed to the US Supreme Court; however, the highest court in the country chose not to hear it.
In White v. South Carolina, Ronald P. White was arrested and convicted in 1999 for violating the tattoo ban in South Carolina after video of him tattooing was broadcast to a local TV audience. White admitted to violating the law, but argued that the law violated his First Amendment rights. This case was argued up to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which found that "the state's legitimate concern about any health risks associated with tattooing outweighed whatever expressive concerns White and other tattoo artists may have." More on that case here and see the S.C. appellate case here.
Despite the court rulings, in June 2004, tattoo artists could practice their craft. And so, with over ten years of proving tattoo opponents wrong, we can celebrate tattoo expression in South Carolina and across the country.
Onna yu ("Bathhouse Women") by Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815) via Wikipedia.
Last week, a bunch of new outlets worldwide picked up the story that a bathhouse in Hokkaido, Japan refused entry to a Maori woman because of her Moko. As MaoriTelevsion.com notes, the woman, Erana Te Haeata Brewerton, was in Japan to attend an indigenous language conference, "staying with a group of Ainu people indigenous to Japan whose ancestors wore tattoos similar to the traditional chin tattoo."
The tattoo bans at bathhouses throughout Japan are nothing new and not really news to many in our community -- it's almost become a joke to pack a long-sleeved wetsuit when traveling to the country if you want to take a soak. The bans are based on the association of tattoos with the Yakuza crime syndicates, and designed to keep the bad guys out. Indeed, Yakuza are heavily tattooed (and often beautifully so). But so are a lot of people who aren't in the Japanese mafia.
The reason this incident is getting media traction is because Japan was just awarded the right to host the 2020 Olympics, which means a lot more tourists, including the tattooed. At the press conference for the Olympics announcement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated that "it is important to respect the cultures of foreign countries, considering we will host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and expect many visitors ... to come to Japan."
Perhaps, we won't have to pack our wetsuits after all.
Taking a quick beach break to post this interesting article from The NY Times today entitled "Booking Criminals and Comparing Ink." It's a report on the new policy by the Phoenix Police Department to ban visible tattoos that are larger than a 3-by-5 index card and tattoos on the face, neck or hands. Of course, racist tattoos and others deemed offensive are banned as well.
In the past, when I've discussed tattoos and employment discrimination, I've taken a conservative approach saying that one shouldn't be so outraged if Starbucks doesn't hire you because of your neck tattoo. I believe there is the responsibility of owning your tattoos, and if you chose to work in a field that has certain dress codes, then abide or chose another workplace, just like so many abide by hem lines and tie requirements.
For me, it's not just covering up in the courtroom. At this very moment, I am on a Greek island with my family wearing long sleeves in the heat out of respect for them because tattoos still have a stigma here that my family finds upsetting.
That said, I'm beginning to mellow on my original position re: covering up at work, and this Phoenix Police Department ban is a good example why. In Arizona, covering up is fairly impractical for cops because, well, it's really hot. As stated by Mark Spencer, the president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association: "Imagine having to wear long sleeves along with body armor, a gun belt and having to get in and out of a police car 50 times every day."
But this also has to be weighed against the goals of the department, one of which is establishing a sense of trust and security between the public and the department. And this is the tricky part. In the article, two cops offer differing opinions. One 11-year veteran says that he gets more negative than positive reactions from the public and has no problems with the new policy. Another officer, who has been on the force for three years, said that she believes it helps connect her to the community: "It gives us a sense of humanity [...] We're normal people just like everyone else."
Another big issue is the stigma itself. While clearly present on this small Greek island, is it still seen as a mark of criminality and deviance in big cities in the States? This is discussed in the article as well:
Questions like these on the practical issues surrounding tattoo bans in dress codes do sway my thoughts on the issue. I've also been thinking on Professor William Peace's guest post yesterday in which he says that "every disabled and tattooed person has obligation to rebel against ignorance, prejudice and any attempt to socially isolate people who are different."
I'll continue to ponder it today over a cold cocktail by the sea. Meanwhile, you can weigh in on the Needles & Sins FB group page.
Photo of Johnny Anderson by Allen J. Schaben for Los Angeles Times
In 2006, Johnny Anderson of Yer Cheat'n Heart Tattoo wanted to move his shop to a better location and decided on Hermosa Beach, CA; however, he was denied because zoning laws prohibited tattooing in the city (not as an outright ban but by not recognizing it as a permissible use). Johnny fought back, suing in federal court in LA claiming that his First Amendment rights were violated and that tattooing is protected artistic expression.
He lost that case because the court found that tattooing was a service and "'not sufficiently imbued with elements of communication" to be protected as speech.
But Johnny didn't give up. He appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently heard the case, and as the Los Angeles Times reports, "some constitutional law scholars predict the outcome could be different in what would be the first--and potentially precedent-setting--federal appellate decision on whether the tattoo artist is engaged in 1st Amendment-protected activity when designing and applying custom tattoos."
This means that if Johnny wins, similar oppressive zoning laws--which are some of the biggest obstacles tattooists must overcome in opening up shop across the US--could be challenged with greater success; even better, local officials may think twice before drafting/amending laws to keep tattoo shops out of their districts.
Other tattooists have challenged tattoo bans on other grounds and have won, but in my opinion, this constitutional question is the most interesting and far reaching in its implications:
Does the First Amendment right to free expression protect tattooing?
Here's what one scholar said to the LA Times:
"If it's art, it's art, and art gets protection," UC Berkeley law professor and 1st Amendment expert Jesse Choper said of the debate over whether tattoos are protected speech. Hermosa Beach might have a chance of prevailing with the 9th Circuit judges, he said, if it imposed regulations limiting the practice to certain parts of the city or required the involvement of medical professionals. But he said he doubts its total ban on tattoo parlors will pass constitutional review.
The state-wide Massachusetts ban on tattooing was deemed unconstitutional by Judge Barbara Rouse in 2000, who ruled on a civil case brought by a tattooist and the ACLU challenging the ban. In her opinion, Judge Rouse said that tattooing is an ancient art form practiced in almost every culture. She added:
Read more on the Massachusetts tattoo battle in this New Yorker article.
That was a state court case, however, and limited in its impact on other bans outside Mass. When a case challenging South Carolina's tattoo ban, White v. South Carolina, was appealed to the US Supreme Court, the highest court in the country refused to hear it (even with Ken Starr arguing it). The tattoo ban was eventually overturned in 2004. [More on that case here and see the S.C. appellate case here.]
FYI: The last state ban to be overturned was Oklahoma in 2006.
Now, with the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals looking into tattoo protections under the constitution, these local bans might also brought down, and just as important, another court will find tattooing as an art form.
Will keep on eye on it and let you know how it goes.
UPDATE: More legal analysis on HuffPo
Yesterday, I wrote about yet another tattoo ban for cops, this time in St. Louis, and it reminded me of a story I read last month in the American Chronicle on a tattoo cover-up created by a former LA Deputy Sheriff and a Marine Corps Vet called Ink Armor.
Ink Armor basically looks like nude stockings for your arms, just thicker, although the company says that the material is "lightweight and breathable."
The full sleeve fits from the upper arm to the wrist while the half sleeve goes to the elbow. They sell for around twenty to fifteen bucks respectively and come in four sizes for men and women.
Only two colors are available, however, "light" and "suntan."
To see how it works, check this video.
The tattoo cover ups are largely marketed to those who work for companies with "no visible tattoos" policies -- and in fact, they offer a list of such companies and public departments on their blog -- but Ink Armor also targets people with "extensive scarring or disfiguring skin conditions."
I'm tempted to place an order, although not for work where I wear long sleeve suits as a rule, but more for my trips to the motherland, where heavily tattooed women are considered the greatest Greek tragedy.
Also in the news today ...
Kat Von D's tattoo concealer for Sephora, also only available for light skinned people. I tried it myself. It didn't work. I had a make-up artist at Sephora apply it for me and after brushing on numerous layers, the small tattoo on my hand -- the one that gives me the most trouble because it's hard to conceal -- was still very visible. So we wiped it off and I asked to see other tattoo cover-ups. None that she used on me worked, so I'm not just hatin on the Von D product.
The one that came the closest to covering my tattoo was Conceal FX Camouflage Concealer, which is thicker, waterproof, and comes in a variety of skin tone shades. The price tag is $25. The problem was that it was really cakey and actually drew attention to my hand.
I haven't tried Dermablend or Colortration, but some swear by those tattoo concealers. I plan on odering and will let you know how they work.
Right now, my regular solution for my hand tattoo: fabric waterproof Bandaids.
Photo by Alan Berner/Seattle Times
I'm gonna geek out on you a bit for today's tattoo news review. As a heavily tattooed lawyer, any time I see a news item that deals with issues like First Amendment or tattoo bans, I get giddy, as if Bradgelina came to my very own McDonald's drive thru. Well, this past week, there was plenty to squeal about.
Check the tattoo law headlines ...
Last week, a new policy went into effect for St Louis cops that bans visible tattoos. Those who did not comply were sent home. The St. Louis Police Officers' Association says it's unfair and will be meeting this week to discuss the new dress code. In general, it's a tough battle to fight.
In 2006, the Second Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in Inturri v. City of Hartford, upheld a similar ban for Hartford, CT cops, setting precedent that such dress codes do not violate the First Amendment. It said, "A police department has a reasonable interest in not offending or appearing unprofessional before the public it serves." Further, in a federal case in Texas, Riggs v. City of Fort Worth, the District Court said that "A police officer's uniform is not a forum for fostering public discourse or expressing one's personal beliefs."
The bottom line is that tattoo stereotypes still exist and if the public cannot trust the police, the bans fulfill a "legitimate purpose" as long as they are not applied in a discriminatory way. The best way to combat the bans is to fight the stereotypes.
Alas, after the weekend I had, I fulfilled every negative tattooed chick stereotype in the book. Do as I say, not as I do, my friends.
This guy also doesn't help our cause: Tattoo gives away nine-time drunken-driving suspect who tried to fool a cop with a bogus license but the officer remembered the tattoo from a previous arrest.
Tattoo bans in public schools like this latest one in western Kentucky, however, can be fought.
As I wrote in my 2005 Legal Link column entitled "Fighting Oppressive School Dress Codes," the 1969 landmark Supreme Court case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District gave students the right to freedom of speech. Read my article for points on how parents and students can exercise this right and fight against school body art bans.
In convention coverage ...
The Seattle Times reported on the Seattle Tattoo Expo, which took place this past weekend. The article features great photos by Alan Berner like the one above of Becky Long undergoing a 6-hour session at the show under the needles of Paul Zenk of Portland's Infinity Tattoo. Paul was one of the 285 tattoo artists working the Expo where an estimated 10,000 tattoo lovers attended.
The Times article also has a great quote from Body Graphics's Bill Funk on tattoo culture:
"What we see now is a complete reflection of society in general. There is no tattoo subculture. The lines have been blurred. If you have a love of the art, you're going to get a tattoo."
Seattle Pi also has an extensive slideshow of the Expo with photos like this one right by Daniel Berman. Check it. [Thanks, Bill!]
In tattoo business ventures ...
Call your stock broker! Tattoo removal company, Dr Tattoff is expanding and wants to go public next year. John Keefe, Dr. Tattoff's chief executive, estimates that tattoo removal could be a $10-billion-a-year industry. He wouldn't give figures for his own profits but did say that Tattoff is a multimillion-dollar business.
KansasCity.com explores how tattoo art has made its way onto gift registries but in the form of tableware, home decor, and bedding. At the end of the article, they list tattoo-inspired goods along with websites and prices (like the $65,000 price tag on Kiki Smith's "Tattoo Vase" for Steuben Glass).
In celebrity tattoo snooze ...
Posh's latest Hebrew tattoo gets pimped in Israeli press.
Lady Gaga waxes poetic over her new Rilke tattoo.
Ryan Gosling has a tattoo inspired by Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree." [Thanks, Scott!]
But I liked this bit: Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone show off their very real tattoos in their upcoming film The Expendables. Mickey plays a tough tattoo artist, drawing inspiration I'm sure from his own artist Mark Mahoney of Shamrock Social Club. Also read more about Stallone's tattoo work here.
More Quick & Dirty Links ...