Community Wages War Against Graffiti

Associated Press

Three colorful paintings on the wall of a school are among the vestiges of a city plan to keep tabs on graffiti artists: Instead of punishing the scribblers, the Department of Community Development donated paint to help them create outdoor murals.

But last August, Mayor Frank X. Graves ordered the murals and all other graffiti around the city painted over because, he said, they might inspire other spray can artists.

Mark Sisco, 20, a member of United Artists, the group that painted the park murals, said the crackdown on graffiti might not be successful in the long run.

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“The mayor declared war. Graffiti artists are very competitive,” said Sisco, who contributed to one of the remaining murals in the park.

It shows a tough-looking duck with a cigar, a seedy criminal, fake bricks and elaborately scripted phrases such as “Silk City,” “graphiti phreak” and “this is energy from my soul.”

Under a new city ordinance, spray paint buyers must show identification and provide their name and address to retailers. Persons caught spray-painting can be fined up to $500 or sentenced to community service.

Since the crackdown began, city officials have used about 1,000 gallons of paint to whitewash 200 buildings bearing about 70% of all graffiti in the Passaic County community, said Vince Cortese, president of the Chamber of Commerce.


“Recently, there was a new group of graffiti writers and, as a result, we renewed our campaign,” Cortese said, referring to the arrest of 15 teen-agers two weeks ago. He said that, as a result, the city distributed 2,000 posters spelling out the penalties that graffiti artists face.

Those arrested, including Sisco, were ordered by a judge to work with prisoners from the county jail to paint over graffiti on Saturdays.

“It (the crackdown) has developed a pride because, all of a sudden, we see people coming out and painting their own buildings,” Cortese said, adding that some of those helping in the effort have worn “Graffiti Busters” T-shirts.

“You frustrate them if you keep painting over immediately anything they do. And, before you know it, they give up,” he said.


But Richard Lachman, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, said he was not convinced that would happen.

“They might be able to greatly reduce graffiti over a long period of time, but my guess is that, in a few months, the campaign will die down and the graffiti will begin to spread again,” Lachman said.

Patricia Fierro, who encouraged the teen-agers form United Artists, added: “The same week the city covered graffiti on one building, someone painted the message, ‘You can’t stop graffiti.’ Little by little, it’s creeping back on the walls.”