On Nov. 15, at around 1:55 p.m., Darryl Roberts was headed to the laundry room in his building along Robert F. Kennedy Drive, across the street from San Fernando Recreational Park, when he noticed a group of teens at the back of the Cesar E. Chavez Memorial. The boys and girls were tagging the back wall with graffiti. It was the second time the Chavez memorial has been vandalized in the past four months.
“I saw a group of about nine kids and they had just finished [tagging] one part of it,” Roberts said.
“A girl with a hood had just finished writing ‘Krazy’.”
Based on the amount of, graffiti they had written, Roberts estimates they’d been there for a few minutes.
The marring and defacing of one of the City’s treasured landmark, pointed to the ongoing battle with graffiti, and the high cost of removing it.
In the United States, $12 billion is spent annually on cleaning up graffiti on buildings, freeways, parks, bridges and garage doors. In Los Angeles county, officials also spend millions of dollars annually on graffiti cleanup.
Taggers can see graffiti as a route to fame. Often the more places “tagged,” and the harder it is to remove that tag, can increase their notoriety.
Gang graffiti, however, is used to mark or establish territory, and warn other gangs to stay out. Gang symbols can pass along messages that threaten violence and/or retaliation, especially if a recognized gang symbol has been crossed out.
Both cause blight in local communities.
Back in June, black paint was thrown over the images of Cesar Chavez and Dr. Martin Luther King, directly onto the mural . Fortunately, a graffiti-resistant seal had been applied, which made it possible for the black paint to be quickly removed.
Police did not catch the vandals.
Roberts said the majority of the vandals he saw recently, on Nov. 15, wore white hoodies and black-colored pants. But there were also two other teens in different clothes, wearing shorts and backpacks.
Roberts took out his phone and started taking photos.
“At first they didn’t see me,” he said. “Then one of them saw me and they started running.”
The photos revealed some of the teens’ faces, while others tried to hide their identities with their sweaters. They all took off running through San Fernando Recreation Park.
Roberts called San Fernando Police Department (SFPD), but said he initially was transferred to another department. By the time he was able to contact them and police officers showed up at the site, the taggers were gone.
“They drove around and couldn’t find them,” Roberts said.
Memorial Built in 2004
San Fernando was the first city in the United States to erect a memorial to the farmworkers’ leader. It was designed by artist Ignacio Gomez. The memorial, located at the corner of Wolfskill and Truman Streets was built at a cost of $300,000 took eight months to complete and was unveiled in 2004. Along with the Chavez statue, there is a fountain, a sculpture of 10 farm workers, and a 100-foot mural depicting Chavez’s life.
Alex Reza, a former teacher at San Fernando High School and a member of the local Chavez Commemorative Committee raised funds for the memorial, is angered by the thought of a younger generation not respecting Chavez’s legacy.
“There’s a general lack of appreciation [especially younger people, for the impact [Chavez] has had on our society in general and especially the Latino community,” Reza said.
“We don’t know who did this, so I wouldn’t be able to characterize what specifically triggered this. But, it’s very, very disappointing. This memorial is one of the most inspirational tributes to Chavez anywhere in the country. I’ve seen a lot of memorials and this one is so comprehensive… it’s much more than you usually see. I think we’ve lost our appreciation for him, especially on the part of younger people.”
More frustrating for Roberts at the time was seeing several adults at the park and cars pass by, and apparently no one had called the police.
“It’s typical apathy,” said Roberts, who has lived in San Fernando for about four years.
“There’s only a small minority of people that bother to do anything,” he adds.
Roberts said the police told him they keep a graffiti database and would compare those records with the tagging recently painted on the wall.
The latest graffiti has been removed, but you can still the faint traces of graffiti that have been repeatedly painted over on the walls.
“Saturday morning I saw a crew painting over the wall. It shocked the hell out of me. I’d never seen a reaction that fast,” said Roberts.
A few months ago, Roberts said he saw another guy, “putting a can back in his backpack” after painting graffiti on the wall.
He also saw the same “Krazy” tag on a picnic table in the park.
A member of the San Fernando Neighborhood Watch, Roberts says whenever he sees something wrong, he always tries to intervene.
Now he’s hoping the taggers in this recent incident can be identified. As to any punishment if they’re caught, Roberts believes the best strategy is to teach them a lesson.
“They should be put on cleaning duties. One hour after school each day and then on weekends for six months, cleaning up graffiti [and the] parks,” he said. “This is disrespectful. It’s the Chavez Memorial. He was a great man, they should at least have respect for that.”
As for the adults who don’t seem to care when they see something bad happening, Robert exhorts them to “be adults, take charge, stand up and say something.”
Chief Tony Vairo said the SFPD continues to investigate the incident.
“We have not identified the suspects in this case. and our detective just received the report (on Monday, Nov. 18),” Vairo said. According to the chief, the department has reached out to LA School Police and LAPD area gang units to help identify the suspects.
Vairo said the photos provided by Roberts and the actual graffiti written on the memorial will help with trying to identify the taggers.
Once identified, the taggers could be punished and their parents could be fined, if the taggers are minors.
“They (parents) can be responsible for cost the City incurred to clean and/or repair the damage,” Vairo said.