Graffiti is becoming more prevalent in Richmond, Virginia. It’s all over the streets and sidewalks.
According to officials, this trend extends from the southside to the Fan. This week, several murals on Bainbridge Street have been vandalized with black spray paint.
“There’s been a significant increase in graffiti in the city, particularly in the downtown and Fan areas,” said Vassar Sumpter, DPW Street Cleaning Operations Manager. “A lot of tags, large lettering, and stuff like that.” This year has seen an increase in sidewalk graffiti.”
Since 2020, this trend has only grown stronger.
“There has definitely been a significant uptick since the protests, and it has really not stopped since,” Sumpter said.
“This is your neighborhood,” Johnny Johnson, Johnny on the Spot’s owner, said. “Why mess it up?”
Johnson has volunteered his crews and resources to help clean up the vandalism. He claims, however, that the spray paint keeps reappearing overnight.
“It’s taken a turn for the worse recently,” Johnson explained. “People are tearing it up as fast as we can clean it up.”
He is agitated that vandals have destroyed murals painted by local artists.
“They put in a lot of time, at least three weeks on these two sides,” Johnson said.
The suspects have not yet been apprehended, but Richmond police work closely with the Department of Public Works to target high-risk areas for vandalism.
To protect themselves, businesses like Johnson’s are now policing their surroundings.
“We have cameras on our building, but they don’t reach this far down,” Johnson explained. “Unfortunately, we cannot assist with that aspect of policing.”
Meanwhile, they focus on assisting the city of Richmond with cleaning efforts.
“They’ve actually hired me because they’re so busy,” Johnson explained.
The city also provides graffiti removal. “The best part is that it’s free,” Sumpter said.
Before contacting a company that will charge you to come out and fix graffiti or vandalism on your property, contact the city. Any vandalism can be reported to RVA 311.
Plain and simple, graffiti empowers big government. How? While advocates present graffiti as a liberating force, it has also given local governments a pretext to expand their coercive powers.
The business of anti-graffiti receives far less attention than the business of graffiti. Nonetheless, it is quite impressive in its own right. According to most estimates, the annual cost of graffiti removal in the United States ranges between $15 and $20 billion.
Drew Lindner, chairman of Stop Urban Blight, the non-profit organization that organized the Zero Graffiti conference, estimated the total in 2009 at $17 billion. In a speech at the conference, Mohammed Nuru, Director of the San Francisco Department of Public Works (SFDPW), stated that the city spends $20 million each year cleaning up unauthorized graffiti.
A tag on your favorite Starbucks doorway is a daily assault on your sense of aesthetic well-being. The proliferation of such items provides city governments with a credible justification for establishing graffiti abatement programs and an opportunity for entrepreneurs to cater to these programs.
As a result, an escalation cycle begins: A city that spends millions of dollars annually to combat graffiti will inevitably demand harsher penalties for violators and more aggressive technologies to catch them in the act.
While graffiti supporters portray graffiti as a liberating force that allows individuals and communities to reclaim public space, graffiti has also provided a pretext for local governments to expand their coercive powers. If a prosecutor can prove you had the “intent to commit vandalism or graffiti.” simply carrying a felt-tip marker can land you in jail for six months.
Parents of minors who commit graffiti can face up to $10,000 in fines. To link multiple instances of graffiti to taggers and thus increase their potential penalties and sentences if caught, cities are increasingly turning to graffiti tracking apps and databases.