An increase in graffiti at Blair and in the surrounding community since late last year has Principal Phillip Gainous worried, but not about gangs. His concern centers on the non-gang-involved students whose actions—from leaving lunch strewn on the floor to spray-painting bathroom walls—reflect a fundamental lack of respect for their school, he said.
For the first time since the new Blair building opened in 1998, students not affiliated with gangs are plastering the school with graffiti, said a disappointed Gainous. "This community fought long and hard to get this building here and wanted it to be something we could be proud of," he said. "And now we are tearing it up."
Because graffiti recently found in Four Corners matches that in Blair, Gainous believes Blair students are responsible for the off-campus damage, which he called extensive. "You go look in the back walls across the street—Woodmoor as well as Fred & Harry's and McDonald's. There's spray painting all over the place," he said.
Security Team Leader Edward Reddick photographs all school graffiti and heads the effort to find the vandals. Although nobody has been caught yet, he said security is watching a few suspects.
To speed the investigation, Blair's administration and the SGA might offer a monetary reward to students with information leading to the apprehension of a graffiti artist. Last year, when the SGA offered $100 for information on an obscene graffiti artist, students came forward almost immediately and the perpetrator was caught within hours, according to Assistant Principal Linda Wolf.
Among the most common targets for graffiti artists are bathrooms, especially those across from the gym, according to Gainous. This prompted administrators, security staff and building services workers in January to begin the now-routine practice of inspecting every bathroom during the day to check for vandals, he said.
But what troubles Gainous most is the diminished appreciation for Blair that he said underlies the graffiti. Similar sentiments express themselves, said Gainous, in trash left on tables and in the hallway after lunch, particularly during 5B, when some parts are left a "pigsty."
Reddick agreed with Gainous that non-gang graffiti is predominant and that motivations behind the graffiti are not primarily incitements to violence. "Most of it seems to be more of an emotional release than an attack on anyone specific," Reddick said.
Yet some of the graffiti, called tagging, does appear gang-related. According to Wolf, an "interchange" between gang-involved graffiti artists is sometimes evident to Blair security and to police, who review Reddick's photographs.
Still, the absence of serious gang violence so far this year may have muted concern over gang graffiti. Gainous attributes the success to his administration's proactive efforts to work with police and inform parents of gang-related activity. Whenever fights or other incidents break out, Gainous said, Blair's administration checks for gang involvement and metes out harsh punishments, which include expulsion, to gang members.
Blair's trend of reduced gang activity counters the trend in Montgomery County, according to Gang Prosecutor and Assistant State's Attorney Jeffrey Wennar. In the county, gang violence and graffiti have increased since last November, said Wennar. He estimated that more than 150 gangs exist in the county and said 1,600 members have been identified, largely through arrests, although five or ten more gang members might exist for every one identified.
Stephen Wertheim. Co-editor-in-chief Stephen Wertheim is deeply committed to reporting, even when it conflicts with such essential life activities as food consumption, sleep and viewership of Seinfeld reruns. In addition to getting carried away with writing and playing violin, Stephen thoroughly enjoys visiting and photographing spots around … More »