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Destructive, vulgar and racist

Fresh ammunition tested in war against graffiti
By Mike Youds
July 27, 2015 3:25 A.M.
The Graffiti Task Force cleanup crew at McArthur Island Skate Park. From left, Tony Taber, Eric Herbranson and Blayne Halland. They've had a busy July.

“Smear it, please. We’ll get there.”

That’s the stock response property owners get from the Graffiti Task Force when they call to report offensive tagging. Those instances are happening much more often, says Ronnie Bouvier, who heads the graffiti control effort.

“For July alone, we are over 20,000 sq. ft., for one month,” Bouvier said. “It’s more than I have seen in four years.”

Hot weather and warm nights are believed to be factors in the increased vandalism. Achieving the goal of becoming a graffiti-free city now seems almost futile, but the City has a few more tricks up its sleeve.

Hired five years ago to head the graffiti task force, a nonprofit organization, Bouvier has experienced good and bad while trying to rein in the destructive practice of defacing property with spray paint. First, the good news as she recently reported to the City’s Coordinated Enforcement Task Force. 

The graffiti task force has a new mantra: “We need to work together as a community.”

With the help of volunteers, they’ve started a talking program through which they constructively engage taggers. Bouvier packs a cold case of ginger ale to skateboard parks on hot days to sit down and talk with youth who are part of the tagging subculture.

“We call it the preaching program,” she said, though she doesn’t like to preach. Skateboarders are more than willing to engage with Bouvier because they want to make it clear that they are not the ones responsible for the damage. Bouvier uses the indigenous tradition of the talking stick to allow everyone to have a voice in the exchange. She conveys concerns about the vulgarity of some of the tagging.

The skateboard park at McArthur Island has been turning grey as the task force paints over various tags. There is a plan to enhance the park with new colour and possibly murals. A silicon covering can be used to protect walls.

With disability support funding through the Open Door Group, a part-time team is policing parks and utility boxes this summer to detect fresh cases of vandalism. 

The task force also works cooperatively with neighbourhood groups and property owners to manage recurring problems and cleanup efforts. Cases on private property more than doubled this spring while public property cases dropped slightly.

And now the bad news: Spray-paint vandalism can hit as much as 3,000 sq. ft. a day, though the average is about one-third of that, Bouvier noted. If a case involves vulgarity or racism, “We get it down right away.”

If they can’t get to the offensive scrawls immediately, they ask property owners to smear the tagging until they can respond more effectively. Even when the scrawls are smeared or painted over, the tagging is carefully documented.

“We take a photo of every piece of graffiti. We take a photo and we put it on our special computer,” she said, alluding to a recent “horrible incident” that was passed on to the RCMP. 

There tends to be a direct correlation between the self-expression of taggers and the world as they experience it through mass media. With racism and racial violence gaining increased attention in the U.S. over the past year, racist expressions invariably turn up on walls in Kamloops. Sadly, the response falls into the category of imitation rather than condemnation.

“Every time there’s a media story that focuses on it, the next day there’s an increase.”

A children’s art mural in Juniper Ridge that had charmed the neighbourhood for 16 years was destroyed by tagging. The mural cannot be restored and will be painted over.

“It’s a shame.”

Bylaw enforcement is distributing a new brochure, Stop Graffiti, designed to inform the public on how to counter destructive graffiti. As well, the task force is raising funds for the purchase of a $20,000 “walnut blaster.” The machine uses ground walnuts as a non-toxic abrasive to remove graffiti.

"It's an ideal machine, like using a vacuum. It works on any surface."

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