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Ray Ruybal Made His Mark

The longtime head of Denver's graffiti unit fought to clean up the city -- until he felt he was beating his head against the wall.

"These were taggers, but when we put the mural up, we had a barbecue cookout, and some Aztec dancers came and did a prayer," Lopez says. "A guy came out with his lowrider, opened it up and played music. For the first time, we realized this was a community. It was an event that resonated with the community. That mural has not been touched."

Despite the best efforts of municipal leaders, graffiti may never disappear entirely — but it can be made more conscious and less ugly. "If you really want to clean up the city," says Acee, a graffiti writer with RTD, "your best bet is to change the culture."


Ray Ruybal wonders what's become of all the boxes of photos he took over the years, whether they're of any use to the new detectives. He recently testified at the trial of an accused tagger in Aurora and ended up talking with some old cop friends there about graffiti for two hours. But in a little more than a month, he'll be completely retired and won't have to think about it anymore.

Ray Ruybal at home, with sketchbooks he's confiscated over the years.
tony gallagher
Ray Ruybal at home, with sketchbooks he's confiscated over the years.
City councilman Paul Lopez worked with the Crime Prevention and Control Commission to recruit some of Denver's biggest graffiti vandals to paint this mural in his district.
tony gallagher
City councilman Paul Lopez worked with the Crime Prevention and Control Commission to recruit some of Denver's biggest graffiti vandals to paint this mural in his district.

The real "kids" that Ruybal arrested in the mid-'90s are grown men by now. Some of them probably have jobs, families and property of their own. Others are in jail for worse crimes than spray-painting a wall. Still others continue to tag. A few years ago, one of the young boys he'd busted and later gotten to know invited Ruybal to his high-school graduation. "I felt good about that," he says. "I do miss it."

He wishes he could remember the name of the 35-year-old tagger who continues to leave his moniker across the city while his kids — who're probably in elementary school by now — sleep at night. The one he never got. The one who mocked him.

Ruybal is one of the few people in this city who really understands the language of tagging. Who realizes that, behind the gangster bravado and fuck-the-man attitude, what graffiti really speaks to is a desire to be heard, to be listened to, for the world to know your name.

So maybe Ruybal's single act of forgetting is his greatest revenge.

"I think about him less every day," he says."

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