By Nandika Doobay
During last February’s epic Snowpocalypse, while the blizzard created near white-out conditions and area residents huddled inside their homes, vandals took it as an opportunity to get a lot of work done. And by work, I mean destruction of property. According to 32 Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, around 400 buildings were hit on the night of the heaviest snowfall.
Boldly drawn tags exploded along the Blue Line’s path, many of them brazenly colored in with lettering that looks as if it took some time to create -- not the hurried scribbles of a tagger on the run. Much to the delight of hipsters, but to the understandable chagrin of property owners, the neighborhood was transformed into something resembling an 80s music video over the course of one night.
Alderman Waguespack held a special meeting about graffiti and vandalism last Wednesday, at the Wicker Park Bucktown library. About 20 concerned residents attended, including representatives from 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno’s office, members of SSA#33 and court advocates who attend hearings on behalf of the community. Many ideas were shared about what can be done to clean up existing graffiti and prevent further attacks.
Waguespack recommended that property or business owners install cameras and lights with motion sensors to deter new attacks. That seems to have worked on the corner of Armitage and Damen, where the wall along a liquor store used to be a hotspot for tagging. During the graffiti surge, that was one of the high-visibility places that remained untouched, perhaps due to the large white security camera now looming above the billboard across the street.
The alderman also suggests that residents take a more proactive approach to graffiti removal by keeping a few cans of Goof Off around the house. Many neighbors who attended the meeting were enraged at how long it’s taken the city to remove many of the tags, some of which have been up for over a month. Waguespack explained that the city has been slow to clean up many of the spots due to the high volume of graffiti that needs to be removed and because of a lack of funds. “They cut some funding for Graffiti Blasters,” said the alderman. “Those guys have to realize it comes down to a quality of life issue.”
Other reasons why graffiti remains a huge issue is because people fail to report it or fail to show up to court prosecute vandals who have been caught. Gang graffiti has been making a comeback, scaring some residents into staying mum on attacks in fear of retaliation. The alderman assured residents that they shouldn’t be afraid to file a report with 311, or call police if they see something. “Most of these kids are not gang members,” he said.
It is good to know the difference between regular tagging and gang graffiti, though. Click here for a map of known North-side gangs, and click here for examples of Chicago gang graffiti.