Vigilantes are attacking graffiti writers in Detroit

Graffiti _8467The proliferation of graffiti is impossible to miss in Detroit.

Squiggly lines of paint are scrawled on street signs, storefronts, bridges, billboards, parking meters, water towers and vacant houses, churches and high-rises. Vandals with paint-filled fire extinguishers also are dousing vacant buildings and houses with 30-foot-tall lettering.

Fed up with the inundation of graffiti, some Detroiters are taking matters into their own hands. Just this month, anti-graffiti vigilantes have targeted or assaulted at least 12 graffiti writers.

Broken windowsBefore the start of the fireworks Monday, two men shattered the windows of cars that belonged to graffiti writers and other vandals who were painting and tossing debris from the window of the abandoned Fisher Body Plant #21 on Piquette on the east side. The vandals waited until the men left and took off.

But the vigilantes – one with a gun, the other with a baseball bat – came back and approached a pair of photographers who were walking to their car after the fireworks.

“They yelled at us for ‘tagging and being a part of the problem,'” one of the photographers told me in an e-mail. “They made sure we knew they smashed those windows. Talked him down and left unscathed. Well a little shakey but uninjured.”

Graffiti_9950The vigilantes were described as large black men in their 30s, one in a white SUV, the other in a black sedan.

Earlier this month, three men attacked two daring taggers who were scrawling on an abandoned storefront on Chene during the day. The taggers were surrounded and beaten, but neither sought medical attention.

When a few 20-somethings were tagging an industrial building near the Packard Plant on the east side two weeks ago, vigilantes spray-painted red streaks across the vandals’ nearby car.

Police said the number of attacks on taggers is likely much higher than what is reported because vandals don’t tend to involve authorities.

The attacks come at a time when graffiti is saturating entire commercial strips and seeping into neighborhoods, covering stop signs and vacant churches, schools and businesses that are for sale.

Chris Hayes, a lifelong resident of Detroit’s east side, said he’s never seen so much graffiti.

“It’s everywhere,” Hayes, who lives near the Fisher Body Plant, told me. “These punks have no respect. This ain’t a playground; it’s our home.”

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.