Has our Graffiti Problem Reached Epidemic Proportions?

Ed. Note: I’m hoping we can discuss this problem without highlighting names because I don’t want to encourage these people. (I’m using one photo above to illustrate but have deleted the many other examples.) I’m not talking about artists, muralists, or even taggers in alleys. I’m also not talking about gang graffiti where people tag to mark their territory. I’m talking about people who tag right out in the open on houses, retaining walls, bridges, storefronts etc. Since I can’t articulate it better – what I’m talking about is BORF like graffiti.

So this weekend I did a ton of walking – 33 total miles. I say this not to show off, ok maybe a little, but really to say I covered a lot of ground this weekend. Unfortunately, in all the time I’ve been running this blog I’ve rarely been more saddened by what I saw this weekend. The graffiti seemed to be everywhere. Normally I see some graffiti but never to this extent. The cumulative effect was truly depressing.

Have you guys noticed an uptick in graffiti around town? If so – what neighborhoods have you seen it in? Do you have any suggestions about how you think this problem can be mitigated? What do you think is the motivation of these types of taggers?

It now seems even more painful to learn about the elimination of some “Green Teams”.

I know that preventing violent crimes are a much more serious concern for law enforcement. But to me the extent of this behavior has gotten so bad that, while not equal in its severity, it is still seriously degrading our neighborhoods.

103 Comment

  • Come on, to say Borf isn’t an artist is rediculous. His stencil work ,like it or not, was thought provoking and of high quality.

    • way to miss the point, tiger.

    • But what about the 2000 iterations of “Borf” painted everywhere around town with nary a stencil in sight? If you start there and can admit every instance of that was straight ego-driven vandalism with zero artistic merit, you get closer to the fundamental problem: you may like some of it, but it is all illegal and collectively trashes our city, and there is no principled way to distinguish one guy’s stencil from a thug’s territory marker.

      • +1

        If you want to be a “graffitti artist” than buy yourself a piece of 1/4″ plywood and leave your art where it can be seen on the street. Don’t be a douchebag and paint someone’s house or business.

        • i’m sure you just converted many graph artists with your persuasive argument.

          here is a tip in life; if you don’t understand why someone does something, then don’t make suggestions as to how they can change. you’re just preaching to the choir. and the congregation won’t respect you.

          • Here is a tip in life: If someone is defacing the property of someone else, we don’t giving a flying f**k why s/he’s doing it. It’s a disrespectful, illegal, immoral act. End of story.

          • civilized human,

            well, i guess the problem is solved then. thanks champ!

          • Here’s a tip, kill yourself.

          • @ tag — what do we need to understand? And how do you respond to the Anon @ 6:33am point? If I start from the premise that, objectively, this is vandalism and it is illegal, which isn’t up for debate (as is the artistic merit of any given instance of it), what’s the justification that would make me feel it’s OK when I see property defaced?

      • Scew not mentioning names,we all know were talking about the clown from “The Three Stooges”. He’s talentless scum and is everywhere these days, including a ton of personal property(vans,windows,etc).

        I mean come on,congratulations kid you can write a 3 letter name in cursive! how creative! I have never seen anything artistic, thought provoking, or original come from that kid. It’s the same egotistic tag over and over. Can the city please make an example out of him like Borf and charge him with all the spots! Seeing a movie like “Exit Through The Gift Shop..” makes me hate him even more, at least some people are putting some time and energy and into making their work creative

        • You do realize that the whole Mr. Brainwash bit was just an elaborate hoax by Banksy?

          • You do realize that the whole Banksy bit on PoP about Mr. Brainwash bit was just an elaborate hoax by The Real Banksy?

        • I suspect this may be my cat, because that’s his name all over the place and I’m missing several cans of spray paint. I scold him when I get home, whenever I see his distinctive signature scrawled somewhere. The bridge over Military Road (at 16th) has been his favorite lately. I got him a catnip banana at Christmas, which momentarily distracted him…but I simply can’t contain his insatiable go-go lust for proclaiming that he is the center of the universe, and as such, all properties are belong to him. Conceited, rotten jerk cat.

          • I used to have the same problem with my cat, Sandy. Seems like you’ve done just about everything you can. Hopefully he’ll outgrow it like Sandy finally did.

    • Sorry, but if Borf is considered an artist, he’s pretty low on the totem pole. Anyone can rip off the stencil stylings of Bansky… but he’s like a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy… where all the actual artistic skill and social commentary have been lost in translation. Just because he’s one of the more prolific stencil sprayers in DC doesn’t mean he’s any good. So… there.

  • I don’t have a problem with graffiti. I do have a problem with advertisement. Yes one it’s illegal and the other one is legal, but I find ads a lot more invasive. On the other hand, some tags are cool and bring life to a dead concrete wall.

    • But advertisers pay the owners of the wall/space to place their ads there and those who graffiti walls don’t. It’s not simply a matter of legality.

    • I suspect someone thinks he’s fucking edgy – “hey, I hate the consumerist driven adverts, but LOVE the raw, urban art of graffiti.”

    • until they paint the shit on my fucking house as they did a few weeks ago

  • Graffiti is definitely worse. I hate it. These losers should be caned. Especially the ones along the Rock creek parkway.

    Just shows what a bunch of losers we have in this town that they have no self respect.

  • There’s been a lot lately by one particular loser up and down 14th north of Thomas Circle. He/she hit a bunch of properties recently. I’d love someone to catch this jerk in action.

    • me

      Agreed that this area sucks. Also around 13th/U and the surrounding blocks, someone has taken to writing “crotch rot” in sharpie on city lampposts. Lovely.

      • Yes. Lots around 14th and Euclid. I’ve been commenting to my roommates about how bad it’s gotten in recent months.

  • graffiti is one thing, gang tags are another.

    the former can be creative and original, while the latter serves only an obvious and entirely negative purpose. I understand the motives behind the gang tags, but I don’t want them in my neighborhood.

  • The most obnoxious graffiti I’ve seen is the stuff drawn over the tile mural on the Irving side of the Tubman field.

    • About 3 weeks ago I was walking north on 11th to Meridian Pint, I was just past Lamont St in front of that chinese food store and the owners had caught some kid, looked to be about 20, spraying his ghetto gang grafitti on the front of their store.

      The three chinese guys had grabbed him, were screaming at him, repeated slapping his face and then they took his can of paint and sprayed him all over his head and clothes. It was, in a word…spectacular.

      Street justice is sometimes a beautiful thing.

      Personally, I think the punishment for being caught tagging something, should be that the city shows up to your home and tags everything you (or if you live with yoru parents), they own.

      • I would pay a lot of money to witness something like this happening.

      • It would appear Mr. Tag (above) could use a similar lesson.

      • That said, this story is actually kind of awesome.

        Punishment seems to befit the crime – though I’d worry that it might start a cycle of retribution.

        • oops previous post was supposed to lead with:

          “insert standard disapproval of vigilante justice”

          I used “” brackets so the whole line disappeared

      • OMG that was hilarious. I hate to promote a Hammirabian system, but it is very doubtful that this kid will EVER do that again. Let’s just hope he’s not violent….

      • Next time please film that and post it on youtube!

      • yes yes who doesn’t love violence? But I’m being sarcastic of course. How weird that you enjoyed seeing this happen to someone. Do you also like to watch car accidents?

  • One way to combat this would be for the DC City Council and those in neighboring jurisdictions to place huge restrictions on the sale of spray paint. No sales to people under 21, criminal background check, etc. You get rid of graffiti by taking away the tools of the taggers.

    • me

      You already have to show ID at places like Target to buy cans of compressed air (to clean electronics) or WD-40, because people can get high off of them. Why not paint, too?

    • EXACTLY!

      You have to scan your ID to buy friggen Sudafed, why not spraypaint??? Maybe Gray can make a stand with this one (assuming he’s not a former tagger himself….)

    • Yes… I completely agree. Requiring ID checks would be an excellent way to increase the rate of shoplifting of spray paint.

  • I agree with PoP, it seems graffiti of the most un-artistic variety is spreading unchecked recently. The older I get, the more I think we need Singapore-style laws and enforcement regarding graffiti, littering, and other mindless acts of public vandalism.

    • Having lived in Singapore, I think there are 2 distinct differences that make such policies fruitless in the US. First, the fines and penalties (caning is not punishment for minor graffiti) are enforced, which would never happen in the US because our law enforcement is spread thin, the opportunity for endless appeals, and our penal system is not an effective deterrent. But the second difference is more of a problem in my mind–there is an enormous respect and appreciation for the outdoors, public spaces, and community safety that does not exist in the US. Our mentality is so different–even people here, who would never themselves deface public property, shrug and find shades of gray rather than defending the principle. It’s disappointing but the “who cares?” attitude is too strong to prevent the minor crimes we see committed every day.

  • Speaking of mindless acts of public vandalism, did anyone notice all of the uprooted plants and knocked over newspaper bins along U Street this morning? I know it was windy yesterday, but I’m pretty sure the wind didn’t pull out the plant in front of Bistro La Bonne, lights and all.

    • Which plant was pulled up? was it an actual tree or something smaller?

      As someone who has volunteered planting trees in medians throughout the area near U St, this makes my blood boil.

    • me

      Yes! I was making the turn at 14th and U this morning at 6am and saw a McDonald’s truck making a delivery, and there were 4 newspaper sales containers (the Post, Express, etc) knocked over into the street. I didn’t know if the truck backed into them and knocked them over or not.

      Every year, whenever it starts to warm up, there is always this kind of crap pulled by people who are just out late at night and causing trouble. That’s the only part about the warming weather that I can’t stand.

      • While it is still entirely possible that this was vandalism, it was actually extremely windy last night. I wouldn’t be surprised if the stuff blew over.

        • houseintherear

          I watched a newspaper box near my house blew over yesterday. It was pretty windy out there!

          • I saw two newspaper boxes blow over yesterday while waiting for the light at 14th and Irving. A guy went and righted one of the boxes, and it immediately blew back over.

        • and pulled up the plants? since when does wind have opposable thumbs?

  • No, they were just bushes from the planters, probably planted by the businesses.

  • as a rider of the red line to glenmont, i see graffiti every day once we get outside after union station. i always think to myself how artistic some of these folks are, and why they dont put their talent to better use. i also look forward to seeing it everyday, seeing what they will do for their next piece. their art makes my commute better by putting some life into the bland backdrop of what we have already created to ruin the beauty of our surroundings. that all being said, i think there is a place for it, and that place is not anywhere and everywhere. it should not be in the public areas that tourists see or on the “main street” of neighborhoods so to speak. it should remain where it can be appreciated, not where it depreciates….so taggers, if you are reading this (which I am sure you are not) please keep it where it belongs…use some judgment….also a way to curb it is to maybe have some desifnated areas for taggers…i know there are some cities out there that allow tagging in certain spaces…

    • THIS

      This city needs to put some serious effort into positive youth programs. There’s a ton that can be done to prevent tagging while encouraging kids to exercise their creativity. I’ve seen things like an anti-graffiti task force doing real outreach and getting to know artists and taggers; drop-in art spaces; schools starting mural clubs; restorative justice programs (where taggers have to clean up their mess instead of just getting fined); youth entrepreneurship programs that can teach kids to print shirts/hats with their artwork; public walls and competitions for graffiti artists; hiring kids to do murals at their schools, community spaces, or parks. All of those things have worked in various places a hell of a lot better than just arresting taggers. But I’ve noticed that this city is really reactive to all “youth problems” – there’s no real prevention; we just wait until the crime is committed, then lock ’em up.

      It’s indisputable that graffiti can be/is an art form and that it brings a vibrancy to industrial and urban spaces. Just look at San Francisco and the amazing murals in Clarion Alley and elsewhere in the Mission. And I think that having a really vibrant graffiti art scene also tends to discourage the mindless taggers that just come in and scrawl their three letters on someone’s garage. I’ve worked with kids who were active graffiti artists who’ve gone mainstream and who did not look kindly on taggers at all. Provide enough positive outlets for the artists, and the community will also police itself.

  • I think what frustrates so many people is a tag’s permanence without apparent purpose. Perhaps if they used non-permanent paints, or had a coherent artistic message, they may be better able to claim “free expression.” But as it is, this kind of grafitti is purely damaging, especially when done on things that were designed and crafted to last for decades or more. Tagging the back of a stop sign is one thing; tagging a mosaic mural, a sandstone bridge, or someone’s house(!) is deeply disrespectful and socially depraved.

    • The problem with that logic is that it calls for censorship based on substance. While tagging your name on something doesn’t seem like art to you, the guy who did it might feel like it is the pinnacle of artistic expression. Making that kind of distinction on a case-by-case basis is not something I think any government should get themselves involved in. All graffiti, from the most beautifully artistic, to the lowest form of tagging, should be considered (and is considered) illegal and should not be tolerated.

    • The problem with graffiti/tagging has nothing to do with the artistic merit of what is produced but the fact that someone else’s property is being damaged.

      People generally don’t want others painting all over their stuff without their consent.

  • On my walk on Irving to the Columbia Heights Metro from Mt Pleasant there has been a lot of graffiti. A few weeks back both of the schools were hit and the apartment buildings before DCUSA keep getting tagged. And now I saw Highland Park got it as well over the weekend.
    You can call graffiti art if you like, to me it’s nothing more than some asshat ruining something because he can.

    • Yeah, because DCUSA is such an architectural master piece that brings so much beauty to that area…

      • So, if you personally dislike an architectural design, you should spray paint on it? Wow.

      • If you believe in the general principle that any ugly building deserved to be graffitoed, please post your address so that we can come and judge (and, if need be, make the proper aesthetic adjustments).

  • Last night’s wind storm probably knocked them over.

  • meh, dc really doesn’t have nearly as much graffiti as some other cities.

    after living in rome, you’d think dc is the inside of a museum.

    • say what? “graffiti” in rome, the place where the term graffiti was coined and a city 5 times the size of dc! you must be lying.

      • Yeah, it’s really astounding how much graffiti there is in Rome. It’s everywhere. I was shocked. In comparison, we have very little.

  • Of all the bizarre comments I’ve read on here over the years some of these are the best. I’m shocked how many people actually think graffiti is cool. I concede that some small argument can be made that a artistic tag well done on a wall facing the Metro has some merit but 99.99% of the graffiti in this city is stupid one color names like the crap shown in the picture here. There is no artistic merit there. None. Some punk kid (maybe a 25 year old punk kid but still a punk kid) wanting to have people see his cool little tagging name.

    No one has mentioned the graffiti on glass that actually destroys the glass almost like an etching. I’m not sure what that stuff is but there was a wave of it on 18th Street a few years back. Store owners had to replace all their windows. Great artistic merit there punk….

    • I agree; some of these comments are so strange to me. Even if a certain piece of graffiti does have artistic merit (which most of it obviously doesn’t), I’m surprised people can’t see why it’s wrong to spray paint something that doesn’t belong to you.

      • They think they are being independent thinkers by disagreeing with the prevailing social norm that prohibits paiting on other people’s stuff.

  • It’s gotten really bad over by Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park–especially the corner at 15th and Euclid. That poor corner building has numerous tags that have been added recently. And most of the ones in the area are the same name. I just don’t understand why people do this, do they get some sort of good feeling knowing they’ve left an ugly mark all over other people’s property? Do they get recognition from their gang? It’s stupid and it does make the area look sketchier.

  • I see a lot of tags with Xs through them as well as “= bottom” next to it. Anyone have any insight on this practice? I imagine its just a way for rivals to show that they disagree with another individual’s stake to the land? It kind of reminds me of when I see a dog piss on a tree and then 5 seconds later another dog comes by, smells the scent, then pees over it.

    Whenever I think of ways to prevent graffiti, my mind always wanders to the anti-graffitti wall from The Naked Gun. Can’t find a link for a video, but I like the concept.

    • Crossing out a tag and replacing it with a rival tag indicates an impending turf fight. New gang initiates are given the task of crossing out the rival’s tag. If they get caught in the act, they’ll probably get killed.

      • But like in the photo here, STAMP is not a gang tag. The only thing I can think of is that some punk kid doesn’t know better, thinks it’s a gang tag and thinks he’s being a badass by crossing it out.

  • Asshat is right. The Duke Ellington Bridge has the same tags that cover various objects in Kalorama Triangle & Adams Morgan. I mean, really? Our trash cans, our utility boxes, the crap is everywhere. If I saw it happening, I’m pretty sure I would morph into those 3 Chinese guys and deliver the same justice. Public floggings are needed.

    • “Our trash cans, our utility boxes”

      Those thing don’t belong to you anymore than they belong to the tagger. And don’t give me the taxes line I know your thinking of, because I’m not buying it.

      • Well then hell, it must not be a legitimate argument, because a guy who won’t sign his name to a blog entry doesn’t buy it!

        Is your point that Alex’s lack of actual ownership means he doesn’t have a right to be upset that some useless punk is vandalizing stuff?

      • First of all, the “tax line” damn well IS a legitimate beef. Maybe YOU don’t pay much tax, since you’re probably living in a group house surviving on checks from mommy, but those of us who DO pay taxes in fact do see their money paying for things like trash cans and utility boxes.

        Secondly, if those of us whose tax dollars *are* paying for them don’t have the right to claim some level of ownership over them (in your book), then in what universe does some sh-thead tagger or gangbanger?

        When you grow up and get yourself a real job, you’ll learn this.

        • You just moved into my anonymous “like” category for the week.

        • I’m a native Washingtonian and probably started paying district taxes well before most of the people who read this blog moved here.

          The problematic point of the original post was the use of the word “our” in the phrase “Our trash cans, our utility boxes.” The use of “our” here inferes that the poster thinks that whoever “s/he” and “his/her” people are have a different / superior position within the city to those who are graffiti artists – a stance which I don’t agree with.

          • Holy Hell. “Our” meaning our neighborhood. I wasn’t implying that “we” are any better than anyone else, simply that I wish “our” collective, public spaces were not being illegally spray painted. Chillax people.

            And I didn’t say anything about taxes. But when I pay the city my property taxes, and the side of my house gets marked (it has), then why not? The city does need to do something.

          • If you define different/superior as someone who doesn’t deface public property and make ugly the community that they live in, then (presumably) Alex is in a “different” position than the tagger.

  • Clearly, this conduct isn’t being deterred. These folks are very difficult to catch, so the answer has to be, if you are caught, you really, really, really regret it, and spread the word to others. Maybe for a first offense, automatically 50 hours scrubbing off others’ graffiti (or better yet, they are assigned a several block radius and until it is graffiti free, they are on probation), for a second offense, 250 hours? That way we could at least put these folks to work doing something productive, and maybe if they got annoyed enough by the cleaning-up, they would try to dissuade their friends. Maybe this is happening already, but I never see anyone cleaning up graffiti, let alone anyone who looks like they might have been an offender.

  • “Has our Graffiti Problem Reached Epidemic Proportions?”

    I realize that hysterics drive page views, but no.

  • Whatever happened to Cool Disco Dan?

  • I’d consider “Borf-like” stencilwork INFINITELY SUPERIOR to the crew tags. The serial autographers need to be rounded up and neutered by wild hogs.

    It’s a good question, but curious that you’d specifically exclude alley taggers.

    So if the question is: are we experiencing an epidemic of guerrilla “artists,” I haven’t seen it. But if the question is about name-sprayers, methinks it’s no worse than anyplace. City, suburb, exurb, it’s as universal as discarded Velicoff bottles and empty tins of vienna sausages. Compared to a lot of backwater burgs, we have it alright in that respect.

  • I don’t like grafitti, no matter what the form. Grafitt “artists” can kiss my ass. Speaking of which, I once saw a gang tage with “is a bottom” written below it. I thought that was pretty funny.

  • Nearly every Monday when I am riding the metro to New York Avenue, there is always new graffiti on the Courtyard Hotel at that stop (and a number of different buildings along the way). While the hotel is proactive and painting over it/attempting to scrape it off, who thinks it’s appropriate to do this? I can see scrape marks from where the hotel has had to basically exfoliate part of the building to get the graffiti off which messes up the facade.

    I’m not a fan of graffiti at all. It’s not part of an urban culture when you’re defacing property that’s not yours, or even public. Graffiti on a train track wall is one thing, but it’s quite another when it’s on a hotel.

  • I don’t have any suggestions on how to stop the graffiti, but I wanted to give a shout out to our Ward 6 Outreach Team. We had about 4 blocks suddenly covered with graffiti over the summer. It appeared overnight on the signs, the curbs, houses, etc. down a stretch of South Carolina Ave. The Outreach Team coordinated cleanup and it was gone in under 24 hours. Many residents didn’t even have a chance to notice, because the removal was so quick.

  • Have any of you noticed the tag near the intersection of Georgia and Florida near the Howard Hospital? It’s something like “Learn from Egypt – rise up in the streets” or something. Impending call to riots?

  • Graffiti culture was huge in NYC when I was growing up. One way the City got a handle on it was to provide opportunities for lawful tagging by inviting graffiti artists to create public murals. Keith Haring did several before he died.
    The other thing NYC did was to punish unlawful tagging by sentencing people busted for graffiti to community service of scrubbing graffiti off of trains and building walls.

    • Yep, yep. My subway line (D/Q from Coney) was covered. Platforms, tunnels, stations, walls where it goes above ground. Not so much trains anymore, you’d never see the giant bubble-letter throw-up covering the whole train car in the 1990s when I was growing up. I think all of DC probably has 10% of the graffiti that one subway line had. So I don’t really consider DC’s graffiti problem as huge. It’s annoying and there’s more of it than what is acceptable (none), but it’s not an “epidemic.”

  • dc hardly has that much graffiti compared to other major metropolitan areas, so stop bitching. cool disco dan is still putting in work.

    • When I first moved to the area I went to the National Gallery with my cousin. I’d parked pretty far away, and when we left we couldn’t remember where the car was. She lived out in Fairfax and had no directional sense, and I’d only been staying with her in the DC area for a week.

      So we were wandering around, totally lost, when we approached an area with some graffiti. “Turn around; we’re in a bad neighborhood,” she said. Having come from NYC and Philly, where you see graffiti everywhere, I didn’t understand the cause of her concern!

  • You know who I miss? Cool “Disco” Dan

  • There is an index, down near Ben’s Chili Bowl at the alley corner. Nearly everyone who is anything is represented.

  • I recently reported new graffiti on the building next to my house. On the DC.gov website it says something like “temperatures need to be consistantly above 40 degrees” for a bit before the graffiti can be removed. My guess is that the cold temps have allowed grafitti to build up over the past few months. So maybe the taggers are tagging more, it just that the graffiti isn’t being removed in as timely a fashion.

  • i’m all for good quality graffiti and love riding the red line to silver spring and watching all the works go by… on the other hand, i hate poor tags like one i’ve seen alot of around the ‘hood recently.

  • I’m convinced that the kids doing the graffiti aren’t getting enough attention elsewhere. Perhaps they grew up in fatherless homes, can’t get laid, have social anxiety disorder, etc… They get some kind of pleasure of of writing their name all over other people’s shit.

    That being said, how about major corporations making a commodity out of “urban” culture and incorporating graffiti right into their ad campaigns? Not to mention that high-end art galleries love this stuff. Legitimizes it a little no? My former haunts in NY were covered in the shit and while DC seems a little better, anything off the beaten track (out of sight of CCTV) seems to be fair game.

    What happened to the golden rule of “Don’t fuck up my shit and I won’t fuck up yours?”

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