Mural Vandalism Impacts Franklin


Since completion in May 2018, the “Franklin Strong” mural has been vandalized twice, totaling thousands of dollars in damages and cleanup costs. (Photo by Felix Coffin)

The first year at Franklin’s new building was a challenging one in many ways. Figuring out class locations and how to coexist in such a large space was hard for students, teachers, and administration alike. Ultimately though, growing pains subsided and the new campus began to feel like home. Recently, however, mistreatment of the building has become more common. Bathrooms are regularly disheveled, and vandalism has become a somewhat routine occurrence. Late last school year, Franklin commissioned local artist Johnnie LaRue to paint a “Franklin Strong” mural to be built on a wall on the south side of the track, spending a total of $6000. Since its introduction, it has been vandalized twice, totaling thousands of dollars in damages.

Graffiti is one of the most problematic yet polarizing forms of vandalism, and to understand the harm it does, its positive effects have to first be recognized. Rarely a senseless act of destruction, most graffiti falls under one of a few umbrellas: conventional, gang, tagger, or ideological graffiti. Each category has its own motives and effects. For instance, tagger graffiti often lacks malicious intent and draws more from creative inspiration. In many communities, especially those with inherently poorer living standards, graffiti brings passionate artists together who otherwise would not be willing or able to seek each other out. Ideological graffiti promotes a certain opinion, which can create controversy as well as draw like-minded people to one another. The graffiti on Franklin’s wall, however, appears to be spontaneous conventional graffiti, one of its least productive forms, as well as the most popular form among teenagers. Going through high school and the teenage years, kids are often subject to anger, boredom, or uncontrolled impulses, which are the leading underlying causes of spontaneous conventional graffiti.

One of the main issues with vandalism is its effect on an already thin custodial staff. “They spend a lot of time undoing the damage,” explains Franklin Business Manager Sonya Harvey. “[Taking care of facilities] is a big job and it cannot be done alone.” Every time there is an instance of vandalism, Franklin has to file an Emergency Work Order with Portland Public Schools’ Maintenance department to get extra help. However, it can take days or weeks for additional custodial staff to begin repairing damages. In the meantime, Franklin’s custodians have to juggle their normal day’s work while also dealing with vandalism, making it harder to clean classrooms, take out trash, and restock bathrooms.

Custodians aren’t the only ones negatively affected by this messy form of vandalism. There is strong evidence showing that, while graffiti is erroneously viewed as a harmless crime, damage is done in both directions. For the vandal, it often leads to more serious offenses. Because graffiti is rarely investigated by law enforcement, vandals believe they can get away with other illegal activity, as long as they don’t get caught. The “gateway crime” commonly precedes absence from school as well as drug and alcohol abuse. For the community, standards of living are harmed. Obscene words and images on public property, such as the graffiti at Franklin, if not dealt with quickly, lead to deterrence amongst middle and upper class families. A 2000 study on graffiti’s effect on San Diego’s Mid-City Division found that, after implementing a graffiti prevention program, major crimes such as robberies, drug deals, and other street crimes happened less frequently. By making sure crimes within a younger, more impressionable population didn’t happen, Mid-City Division law enforcement ensured better long term living standards.

For now, Franklin’s wall is still vulnerable to future vandalism, with no security or surveillance. It appears, though, that will be changing in the coming months. “We’ve expressed the necessity to have at least one camera that can provide surveillance to the southeast side of the field,” says Harvey. “We’re also currently working with PPS Security Services and Office of School Modernization to get additional cameras.” However, these cameras are a temporary fix to a long term problem. Kids who want to harm school grounds will always find a way to do it. Thus, Franklin’s overarching goal is not to dissuade vandalism through fear, but to change the culture of Franklin to put an emphasis on upkeep and passing on a clean campus. “Our hope is that every person of our community is invested in caring for this shared space,” says Harvey. “We want it to continue to be available for years to come.”

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