Burlington graffiti removal team takes on Sisyphean task

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 4:44 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A push is underway in Burlington to cover up an explosion of graffiti that appeared during the pandemic. The city has received 283 complaints over the past year -- the most since at least 2016. Now, COVID money is helping used to assemble a team to help report and get rid of tagging around the Queen City.

“It feels amazing to be part of the community and giving to it and in exchange receiving gratitude,” said Caleb Weinstein, a member of this summer’s Graffiti Removal Team.

When unwanted tags show up on an unpainted surface, he uses a special solution and a power washer to erase the graffiti writers’ work. “When you are pointing that power washer at something -- that is the most fun. You can just feel it kick and it’s just something else,” Weinstein said.

And the team works fast. From the time graffiti is reported to the city to the time the team is able to clean it up averages at just over one day. Bill Ward, director of the city’s Department of Permits and Inspections, is spearheading the effort. He says graffiti flourished during the pandemic because fewer people were out and about to report it. “When you have a vibrant active area you don’t have that kind of disorder. But when you don’t have people watching and being good neighbors, things start to slide,” Ward said. Which is one reason why he says Church Street is relatively unscathed -- too many witnesses.

You can find the team in alleys all over the city cleaning up graffiti, doing their part so it doesn’t reflect poorly on the city. “I think when people see that kind of disorder, they start to think that people in the community don’t care. And nothing could be further from the truth about Burlington -- a lot of people care. We are just doing our part to show that people care,” Ward said.

But for some, it seems like a losing battle. Rickey Bushey, a sanitation worker, says he sees the same area tagged again and again and again. “We’ve been picking this alleyway up for years and every time we come back, and sometimes it’s painted over and we’ll come back next week and it’s just destroyed again -- for years,” Bushey said.

Weinstein says it’s not worth the time to do the graffiti on buildings because they’ll just be back to get rid of it. “It’s just as fun for us and probably more fun for us to knock down what you set up and every time it’s going to stay up there for like a day or two,” he said.

Now that the city is cleaning up the graffiti, how do they prevent it from getting there in the first place? On Wednesday we’ll be speaking to a team of people who create murals around the city and help show graffiti writers how to turn their tagging into a more positive artistic endeavor.

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