Heading west on Cunningham Street, building after building is tagged with fresh graffiti. Initials, phrases and images cover the facades of businesses and homes.
"There's probably 14 to 17 properties in which I've noticed graffiti and all within a 10-block radius," said Linda McNeely, 13th Ward.
City leaders say the graffiti paints a negative picture of the community and deters economic development in an area of the city that desperately needs it.
"The graffiti gives the impression that the area is a slum area or unmaintained or undesirable area and that's quite the contrary," McNeely said.
Many believe gang members are responsible for the graffiti and say it could be a sign of other problems. Aldermen have a strong message for whomever is doing the vandalism.
"If people want to own turf, they need to buy it. You don't own turf by painting paint on other people's buildings. I'm very confident. We're going to find the person and take serious action against them," said Alderman Victory Bell, 5th Ward.
Vandals hit two of Carmelo Barone's buildings this week. He says the graffiti comes in waves and turns away customers.
"I'm trying to get older people to come in here instead of all the kids in the summer time and they are scared. When they see that, they just pull away. They definitely need to patrol this area little more," Barone said.
Aldermen McNeely and Bell have requested more police patrols in the area and the city's graffiti cleanup patrol was out in the neighborhood Thursday, but vandals will likely strike again soon.
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For youths who may not be able to express themselves through other media, such as prose or music, graffiti represents an easily accessible and effective way to communicate with a large audience.
Modern graffiti generally falls into one of three categories--
- Junk graffiti
- Gang graffiti
- Messages are not gang-related but often involve obscene, racist, or threatening themes.
- The line separating gang graffiti and tagging has become blurred in recent years.
- Tagging as a form of graffiti first appeared in the early 1980s and has grown immensely popular in many parts of the country, in both rural and urban areas.
- A tagger is someone who adopts a nickname, or tag, and then writes it on as many surfaces as possible, usually in highly visible locations.
- While the images taggers create may not necessarily be gang-related, research shows that most taggers hope to join gangs and use tagging as a way to gain the attention of gang members.
- Tagging messages usually resemble handwriting, but may be difficult, if not impossible, to read. Taggers also have been known to invent their own letters or symbols, often adding to the confusion over the message and the author.
- Often, gang graffiti and gang-related tagging serve an additional purpose--communication. In fact, graffiti as a means to communicate territoriality has become a central element of the gang subculture.
Impact of Graffiti on a Community
- In 1992 alone, the City of Los Angeles spent more than $15 million on graffiti eradication. This figure does not include the volunteer time devoted to graffiti cleanup or the estimated millions of dollars spent by private businesses taking care of the problem themselves.
- According to the National Graffiti Information Network, graffiti eradication costs the public $4 billion a year.
- The presence of graffiti discourages citizens from shopping or living in affected areas.
- As established businesses relocate or close, new businesses might be reluctant to move into areas where customers would feel unsafe.
- As property values decline and law-abiding citizens with resources move, once-thriving neighborhoods can quickly degrade into dangerous places. Thus, the seemingly trivial offense of graffiti ultimately can have devastating consequences for a community.
Source: www.fbi.gov (The Federal Bureau of Investigation Web site) contributed to this report.