Arcata notes ‘rash’ of new graffiti incidents, but none with threatening messages

Graffiti over a mural outside Wildberries Marketplace highlights the moniker “Tropical Skuse.” (Arcata Police Department contributed)
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The city of Arcata has seen a swarm of graffiti incidents since the start of 2020, but few, if any, of the spray-painted messages appear to communicate anything ideological, the mayor said Monday.

“This is really just people making their marks by tagging buildings, street signs and sidewalks,” said Mayor Michael Winkler. “It’s good that we haven’t had any racist messages.”

In just the first three days of 2020, the city saw 13 new instances of graffiti around town, said Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn. Overall, there have been 30 incidents in the new year.

Winkler is now personally offering $500 of his own money to anyone who provides information about graffiti spray-painted over a mural outside Wildberries Marketplace on 13th Street. The mural was painted by local youth during a  summer community arts program.

The city council member, who is serving as mayor this year, said he’s spent about 10 hours a week for the last five years hunting down and painting over graffiti around Arcata. He uses money from the city’s budget for the job.

The most common spray paint Winkler sees around town is the outline of a heart. While Winkler notes that’s not a harmful image, he says it’s still illegal.

The word “Smiler” is a frequently sighted message around Arcata. (Arcata Police Department contributed)

“I consider it all vandalism,” the mayor said. “If someone wants to paint something on their own property, that’s their right. But if someone is painting on public property or saw someone else’s without their permission, or making a change to the appearance of something, I find that very offensive.”

Most instances of graffiti investigated by city police are the artists’ own names — spray-painted scrawls of monikers like “Tropical Skuse” and “Smiler.”

The majority of Arcata’s graffiti does not communicate ideological messaging.

“Very rarely, maybe four-to-five times over five years, I’ve seen the N-word,” Winkler said. “But I’ve probably removed 10-or-12,000 markings.”

Ahearn said the city is looking for interested volunteers to help restore the mural outside Wildberries Marketplace. The original artwork depicts a garden of organic produce, but now there’s a blue marking of “Tropical Skuse” covering the image.

“Graffiti vandals — even though what they’re doing is negative — there seems to be an unwritten code among them not to graffiti over works of art,” Winkler said. “I was especially offended by somebody having so much disrespect for the artwork of the community.”

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504. 

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