Fighting spray paint with spray paint: Local couple on a mission to rid neighborhood of graffiti


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Walking through the City of Richmond, murals and street art are commonplace. But so is graffiti, which is why one local couple is doing their part to clean it up.

The couple, Franklin and Linda, said they have noticed an uptick in vandalism in the Museum District and Carytown over the past year.

“The graffiti has always been a problem,” Franklin said. “But after this last summer, during the riots, it was everywhere, and when we were cleaning it off of our property, we started thinking of what we could do to make a difference not so much with the protest art, but with the real vandalism side of it.”

(Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

Franklin said that one of the walls on their property had been vandalized. That’s when they decided to see what they could do about the greater graffiti issue throughout the neighborhood by purchasing cans of spray paint and a metal scraper to remove or cover up other locations where property had been defaced.

“If everybody just goes out there and took a block and kept their block clean, I mean, I think we could overcome it and go back to life the way it used to be,” Linda said.

In their spare time, the couple will walk around the neighborhood with spray paint that matches the color of stop signs or the City’s utility boxes and cover up graffiti. Linda also uses the metal scraper to remove graffiti stickers, which can be seen on street signs throughout the City.

The graffiti on this utility box was painted over by Franklin and Linda’s neighbors. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

“It’s not artistic,” Franklin said. “It’s selfish, self-serving only.”

Linda added that the graffiti can sometimes be inappropriate. Such was the case at a nearby elementary school, where lewd imagery was spray painted on the school crossing sign. Neighbors worked to remove the graffiti, but not without noticeable damage to the sign.

“You can talk about freedom of speech all you want, but if I had little children, I wouldn’t want them going by that sign,” Linda said. “I just think it’s very inappropriate.”

Throughout the neighborhood, graffiti can be seen on street signs, mailboxes and the walls of local businesses. But the murals painted in the City seem to be untouched.

“To me, there’s three different types of graffiti. One is street art — think Banksy. It’s beautiful. The other is protest art, […] and that’s a one-time event, that’s a one-off, and the other is vandalism, which is not artistic and it’s done for selfish reasons and it defaces public and private property,” Franklin said. “It’s so pervasive that a lot of people don’t notice it. They’ve seen it, it registers, and then they tune it out because if you looked at every single one, it would be so distracting, you couldn’t go about your day.”

But the couple said that their concerns over the vandalism stems from more than just the appearance of their neighborhood. They also worry that it could lead to more property damage and devalue housing in the area.

The graffiti on this wall had already been painted over, but it was vandalized again. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

“In urban planning, there is a syndrome called the broken window syndrome, and it goes like this: in a neighborhood, in a vacant building, once the first window is broken, for whatever reason, the other window will be broken pretty soon, and then another window will be broken,” Franklin said. “I see graffiti as the same thing, and it’s exploding in my neighborhood.”

The Richmond Department of Public Works is responsible for graffiti removal in the City. But, according to the department’s website, there are limitations to the graffiti removal process, such as shadowing that can be left behind on the structure after the graffiti has been eradicated. The City also reserves the right to refuse to remove graffiti from private property.

Residents who spot graffiti in the City are urged to call 3-1-1 or contact the Richmond Police Department. But Franklin and Linda said that there are ways to be more proactive.

“Just go out and buy a can of paint and a scraper, and whenever the mood strikes you, go take some graffiti off,” Franklin said.

The couple said that they have been confronted by police in the past while they worked to paint over graffiti in their neighborhood, but no legal action was taken.

According to the Code of Virginia, vandalizing, graffitiing or defacing property is a criminal offense. Destruction of property in the commonwealth can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the type of damage involved.

“I don’t think it’s a war,” Franklin said. “I think it’s us taking back our own personal property.”

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