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Street art used to turn youths away from drugs

By Xinhua in Bogota (China Daily) Updated: 2016-06-22 07:59

Known as "Oso" ( "Bear" in English), police officer Oscar Gonzalez uses his passion and art to counter the evil of drugs.

Eye-catching graffiti murals painted by him can be seen on walls and doorways around the capital Bogota to call attention to the social disease of drug abuse.

Since youth, he learned how to use spray paint to turn his thoughts and feelings into works of art, slowly carving his niche among graffiti artists.

While art may be his passion, helping people is his calling.

Today, as an assistant police superintendent, Gonzalez combines the two things he loves best by incorporating art into police department programs designed to curb drug use among young Colombians.

Over eight years, he has traveled around the country, visiting poor inner-city communities and introducing children and teens at risk of drug addiction to art.

Like him, they have also learned to express their hopes and anxieties through street art.

"This idea springs from an ability or talent ... of mine," Gonzalez said. "I try to make them realize they can make the most of their free time through sports, music and, in this case, art. It's been very well accepted by the youngsters, especially since graffitis have a lot of impact worldwide."

According to the anti-narcotics bureau of his department, drug abuse is the leading cause of dysfunctional or disintegrated families, and is also linked to domestic violence, high dropout rates and other sufferings.

To keep young people away from drugs, the police anti-drug educational programs focus on early childhood with such activities as talks or presentations at schools.

The efforts are part of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, an international program created by a former Los Angeles police chief that aims to steer children away from drugs and violence by warning them of the dangers.

"As the saying goes, prevention is the best intervention," Gonzalez said.

However, police alone cannot do it well unless parents, teachers and the community as a whole get involved, he said.

The graffiti artist-cum-policeman visits neighborhoods like Quiba, in south Bogota, where thousands of Colombians displaced by the country's long-running civil war have taken refuge in ramshackle homes.

Dressed in paint-spattered overalls, and accompanied by other international graffiti artists, "Oso" spreads message of hope by beautifying surroundings with his colorful street art.

A graffiti carries a positive message, and gives the residents something different to see in their gray neighborhood, an artist said. "They are going to smile at least. That's more than gratifying for us."

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