April 19, 2024

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Seattle parents angry and upset as graffiti makes their city seem like ‘a war zone’

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Like gray skies and rainfall, graffiti in the city of Seattle, Washington, is ubiquitous today. 

Defaced public and private property can be seen everywhere — on storefronts, apartment buildings, commercial vehicles, highways, bridges, street signs and recycling bins. 

Nothing is spared. Everything appears to be fair game, including magazine display racks, utility poles — even historic sites. Taggers, apparently, do not discriminate. 

Now, concerned parents and other residents are speaking out about the graffiti overgrowth.

“Graffiti is not some dude writing ‘Jim was here,’” Ari Hoffman, a Seattle resident and parent of three children, told Fox News Digital. 

“Graffiti is about marking territory, by gangs or dealers, or even by people living on the streets, who are being used for criminal activity,” Hoffman added.

Graffiti mars the front of this Biomat USA Plasma Center in the Crown Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, in Feb. 2022. 

Graffiti mars the front of this Biomat USA Plasma Center in the Crown Hill neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, in Feb. 2022. 
(Elizabeth Economou)

Hoffman is host of “The Ari Hoffman Show” on Seattle’s KVI AM 570 and a former candidate for the Seattle City Council.

Vassie Skoulis, a mother of two and a Seattle homeowner, told Fox News Digital, “Seattle has chosen to punish its residents who desire to live peacefully and respectfully with their neighbors and decided to stop enforcing rules, policies and laws.” 

“Residents must clean up garbage and vandalism in their neighborhood,” she also said.

Residents must also “pay for property damage created by those who don’t want to be part of any community,” she said. Skoulis and her family live near the University of Washington. 

A section of the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. A mom of two who lives in this area discussed the presence of graffiti with Fox News Digital.

A section of the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. A mom of two who lives in this area discussed the presence of graffiti with Fox News Digital.
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Christine Villani, a 30-year resident of Seattle, said that she, too, has noticed an increase in graffiti over the past couple of years.

“I find it demoralizing, and I feel like I live in a war zone,” she told Fox News Digital. “It says to me that nobody cares, anything goes.” 

Villani lives near the Capitol Hill neighborhood, close to downtown. This area was the site of the ill-fated CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest) or CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) during the notorious 2020 “summer of love” riots, as then-Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan called them (later walking back that description). 

The graffiti, Villani also told Fox News Digital, “is an invitation to crime and more degradation in the environment. I don’t think enough is being done, and this contributes to the increasing dystopia that is Seattle now,” she said.

More graffiti reported since COVID-19

To help combat the Emerald City’s graffiti problem, Seattle has a “Find It, Fix It” mobile app. It’s a tool for smartphone users to report graffiti to the city — as well as other issues such as abandoned vehicles and illegal dumping. Items dumped include needles and syringes. 

An instance of "long form" graffiti — not all of it currently legible — is seen here on a wall in Seattle, Washington, in Feb. 2022. 

An instance of “long form” graffiti — not all of it currently legible — is seen here on a wall in Seattle, Washington, in Feb. 2022. 
(Elizabeth Economou)

While the app was launched in 2013, it appears the need for this reporting tool — along with a “Graffiti Report” phone line that any resident can call — is greater now than before.

“There has been an increase in graffiti reports since the beginning of the [COVID-19] pandemic,” Sabrina Register, public information officer for Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), told Fox News Digital in an email.

“SPU speaks on behalf of the city’s municipal code and graffiti abatement efforts, which are supported by the mayor’s office,” Register also said. 

“Mayor Harrell has made clear his commitment to addressing graffiti.”

Mayor Bruce Harrell of Seattle during his first State of the City speech, on Feb. 15, 2022. Harrell gave an update on issues facing Seattle, along with his early priorities and efforts to address them, in remarks addressed to the City Council and to the people of Seattle. 

Mayor Bruce Harrell of Seattle during his first State of the City speech, on Feb. 15, 2022. Harrell gave an update on issues facing Seattle, along with his early priorities and efforts to address them, in remarks addressed to the City Council and to the people of Seattle. 
(City of Seattle )

Mayor Bruce Harrell, elected in Nov. 2021, took office in January. He ran on a pro-police platform. 

SPU said Seattle received 16,625 reports of graffiti on public and private property in 2021. That’s a sharp increase from 2019, when some 13,000 complaints were registered. 

There has been an increase in graffiti reports since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

Some 500,791 square feet of graffiti was “abated” by SPU’s Graffiti Rangers team in 2021. That’s roughly the equivalent of 10 1/2 football fields, Register said. 

The city of Seattle defines abatement as “the removal or reduction/mitigation of writing, painting or drawing on public or private property without permission.”

Graffiti mars historical site for ‘first time ever’

“Graffiti has gotten really bad in the city,” Paul Proios, manager of the popular 14 Carrot Café in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood, told Fox News Digital. “For the first time ever, graffiti is marring the Hines Public Market building — a historical site — where our business is located.”

This dental office building front bears the scars of graffiti in the Green Lake section of north central Seattle, Washington, Feb. 2022.  

This dental office building front bears the scars of graffiti in the Green Lake section of north central Seattle, Washington, Feb. 2022.  
(Elizabeth Economou )

In his opinion, “Seattle is a shadow of its former self. It is riddled with crime and graffiti — and not the cool graffiti that people call [street] art. [This] is the graffiti tagged by thugs,” Proios also said.

The SPU’s Register, meanwhile, did not say what might be fueling today’s surge in tagging. 

Instead, she said, “SPU compiles data on graffiti reports and abatement but does not work to determine factors behind any reporting increase or decrease.” 

Even this planter on a city street doesn't escape the urban scrawl in Seattle, Washington, in Feb. 2022. 

Even this planter on a city street doesn’t escape the urban scrawl in Seattle, Washington, in Feb. 2022. 
(Elizabeth Economou)

Said Ari Hoffman on this point, “Criminals do not want to be hassled, so they go elsewhere when the law is enforced. Any time a building is vacant, even for a few days, it is tagged almost immediately.”

‘Graffiti Rangers’ have a grimy, grueling task

In tech-savvy Seattle, iPhone users are encouraged to become part of the solution by downloading the app from the App Store. Android users can access the app from the Google Play Store.

“With ‘Find It, Fix It,’ reporting an issue is as easy as snapping a photo with your smartphone, adding detailed information, and hitting submit,” the city’s website tells citizens. 

“The map’s ‘drag and drop’ feature or the phone’s own technology can be used to pinpoint the location,” it also says.

Another image of graffiti in Seattle, Washington, taken in Feb. 2022. 

Another image of graffiti in Seattle, Washington, taken in Feb. 2022. 
(Elizabeth Economou)

“Customer reports of graffiti through the ‘Find It, Fix It’ app have helped SPU Graffiti Rangers quickly identify areas with multiple graffiti that can then be abated,” Register explained.

Currently, the Graffiti Rangers team in Seattle consists of six SPU staff members who remove graffiti throughout the city, including in the neighborhoods of Freemont and Ballard to the north, and in Little Saigon and the Central District to the south. 

The team aims to remove graffiti on public property within 10 business days — and within 24 hours or less for hate graffiti, according to the Seattle.gov website.  

Virtually every inch of this row of buildings is covered in graffiti in Seattle, Washington, in Feb. 2022.

Virtually every inch of this row of buildings is covered in graffiti in Seattle, Washington, in Feb. 2022.
(Elizabeth Economou )

Register told Fox News Digital, “Earlier this month, antisemitic graffiti was reported on the side of a convenience store and across the street from Jewish Family Service of Seattle. SPU Graffiti Rangers quickly responded and abated the graffiti within 24 hours.”

As for private property owners, they are the ones held responsible for removing graffiti when vandals strike, according to Seattle’s Graffiti Nuisance Ordinance.

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“We realize property owners and businesses are victims of a crime and offer resources to assist in removal free of charge,” Register also noted. 

Better lighting, more vegetation?

On its government website, the city of Seattle says, “When graffiti appears on your home, apartment building, or business, take a photo to document for insurance purposes.” 

This recycling bin issued by Seattle Public Utilities bears the scars of graffiti scrawl in Seattle, Washington, in Feb. 2022.

This recycling bin issued by Seattle Public Utilities bears the scars of graffiti scrawl in Seattle, Washington, in Feb. 2022.
(Elizabeth Economou)

It adds, “After the police document the vandalism, remove or paint over the graffiti immediately.”

It also shares detailed advice with residents for making their property as “graffiti-resistant” as possible.

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Residents should consider “installing improved lighting and flashing motion-sensor lighting, growing vines or appropriate vegetation to cover unpainted retaining walls, installing a graffiti-resistant coating on your walls, keeping matching paint on hand to quickly paint out graffiti, and installing cameras to monitor activity on your property,” according to the website.

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It notes as well that the city’s Graffiti Nuisance Ordinance “requires property owners to remove graffiti in a timely manner.”

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