Saturday, February 19, 2005

Graffiti, Punk-Style Vandalism, and the Durable Power to Build a Better Neighborhood

Photograph by S-townMike. Posted by Hello
In the movie HUD, ranch owner and family patriarch, Homer Bannon, has to put an entire herd of cattle down because of incurable hoof-and-mouth disease. After destroying and burying the herd, he sadly tells his grandson (and I paraphrase), “It takes a long time to create something. It don’t take any time at all to destroy it.”

I spent the better part of two hours this evening stripping spray-painted graffiti off the back of our privacy fence. It seems that a couple of Salemtown’s best and brightest young men took a very short period of time to deface our fence with some of the gang-related graffiti they have previously reserved for less private spaces.

While it took Madison Fence Co. days to build the attractive fence and while it took me hours to clean it up after today’s "mural," vandals did their ugly work in a just a few seconds. What they probably don’t realize is that there is more power in the effort to create or build something and a lot less power in the attempt to tear down, even though the latter is more convenient.

Look at the picture above. This way of spray-painting “Salemtown” is related to a group of neighborhood kids trying to be a part of a gang. Whenever you see it, you’ll know that some kid somewhere is not living to create, but living to tear down. Take a close look, because this kind of graffiti is a dying breed in a neighborhood that’s organizing to improve the quality of life.

I’m committed to a greater power than vandalism. And the vandals don’t get it. Every time they strike, I only grow that much more committed to the constructive power of cleaning up this neighborhood. It may take a while to clean it all up, but it takes a long time to build something.
And I plan to stock up on plenty of graffiti remover for the long haul.


  1. Hello, I'm really enjoying your website.

    On this post, I would like to offer you a different perspective. The "signage" was actually an of "creation" being that they think so small of themselves that spraypainting your fence helped them grow - yes, it's growth in a immoral way, but few kids understand morality.

    And all the experts will tell you that the best way to keep a lid on graffiti is to respond to it asap. If they see that someone is tearing down their work, they'll look for a more perminent display.

    Peace to you.

  2. I agree with Kevin (on the website and the signage) I have to ask though, what exactly is graffiti remover?

  3. I respectfully but strongly disagree, and not based on the typical "it's destruction of my property" response (although arguments against defacing property are not unimportant).

    The motive for the act of spraypainting was not creation or artistic endeavor. It was brute territoriality pure and simple. We have kids in the neighborhood who want to be in a gang and they believe that Salemtown is their turf vs. other gangs and especially vs. the police.

    Spraypainting my fence was the human equivalent of cats spraying objects to claim territory or dogs hiking their legs to take a leak on fire hydrants. They didn't deface the fence to express their "small" selves. They defaced it in order to stake their claim.

    I appreciate your sympathy for these kids, but along with compassion they need some tough love.

    As for graffiti remover: it is an oil-based chemical sold at hardware and home improvement stores that breaks down the oil-based spray paint usually used for graffiti.

  4. Hi Mike,
    First, 5150 is/was the police code for "escaped mental patient". Secondly, I can't speak for Kevin but I didn't understand his post to imply either sympathy or compassion. I understood him to say that they believe it helps them grow. What they often fail to realize is, that when you threaten someone enough times (whether by paintspray or other means), your artistic endeavors end with a trip to the cemetary. So, given some time, the problem corrects itself. In the meantime, best of luck.