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Gone graffiti
Community rallies to clean up graffiti

08/06/15
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



A Manchester man’s Facebook plea prompted the community to come out and fight the city’s growing graffiti problem.

 
Like a disease
Robert Debrot moved to Manchester from Manhattan about 11 months ago. He had lived and worked in New York for about 25 years and little did he know his experience there would prove critical for the effort he later organized in the Granite State.
When he first moved to the Queen City, he fell in love with a condominium along the Merrimack River near the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. But when he saw the state of the close-by Riverwalk trail, he had a different experience.
“I was shocked by, when I took a ride along the river, the condition and the lack of maintenance and the graffiti especially,” Debrot said. “[It was] just so poisonous to me.”
Debrot decided to act.
“I got frustrated and said I’m not gonna just complain about this. I’m gonna do something about it,” Debrot said.
He created a community Facebook page called the Riverwalk Beautification Alliance, which now has more than 400 members, and a GoFundMe fundraiser that started June 15 and had, in a little over a month, raised $2,110.
He remembered what he witnessed in New York.
“I saw the transformation under Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani and participated in that as a residential property manager on the upper west side of New York,” Debrot said. “If it can be done in probably the birthplace of urban graffiti, which makes the graffiti in Manchester look like nothing compared to what New York had in the ’70s and ’80s, I think Manchester can handle it too.”
Debrot said he quickly learned the key to permanently getting rid of graffiti was to consistently paint over or clean it within the first week of it appearing.
“This stuff has been standing there for months. The critical part of this is immediate removal. If you do not remove it immediately, it grows like a disease. It compounds and gets worse and worse…,” Debrot said. “Once graffiti vandals are aware that it will be removed very fast after they take all the risk and do all the work, they learn not to hit those areas anymore.”
And Debrot says letting graffiti spread with impunity has other side effects besides the aesthetic. It can affect public safety as well.
“One of the challenges with graffiti is it creates an environment [for] people who are looking to do bad things like sell drugs or maybe rob people,” Debrot said.
He says graffiti sends a signal to criminals that this is safe territory for them and it wards off law-abiding citizens, which further emboldens criminals.
“If you create an environment that looks dangerous, then it becomes dangerous and if it looks safe, it becomes safe,” Debrot said.
 
Community action
To kick off Debrot’s campaign to clean up graffiti once and for all in Manchester, he organized the Riverwalk Beautification Alliance’s first community cleanup event, which took place on July 25 at the Riverwalk near the Hands Across the Merrimack Bull Statue. Debrot said about 30 people showed up, making it an “overwhelming success.”
Mayor Ted Gatsas made an appearance, as well as a community police officer, the graffiti truck from the city’s highway department and Alderman Pat Long, who participated in the cleanup efforts.
Graffiti was removed from paved trailway, underneath bridges and on rock walls. It was also largely removed from a sign with names commemorating the Hands Across the Merrimack Bridge.
But Debrot said this is just the start.
 
Upkeep
When and if graffiti returns to an area already cleaned up, Debrot will be ready with cleaning and paint supplies to take it right off. And he has his eye on expanding cleanup efforts to other areas of the city, like the sound barriers on Interstate 293.
Debrot said police have promised to ramp up efforts to patrol graffiti trouble spots to catch vandals.
Still, he thinks more can be done to raise the stakes for would-be vandals. Too often, Debrot sees graffiti artists let off easy.
“From what I hear from various government officials, nothing is being done. So it’s a slap on the wrist instead of some severe punishment of some sort,” Debrot said. “What I’d love to see is some element of government that takes people who have been caught and has them remove graffiti rather than throwing them in jail.”
He plans on reaching out to judges and lawmakers to try to implement some of these programs.
“Appropriate pressure needs to be put on appropriate leaders and judges to make sure these things move forward,” Debrot said.
Next, Debrot is planning a community event after Labor Day weekend for local artists and maybe reformed vandals to use their talents to create works of art as a deterrent for more graffiti tags.
 
As seen in the August 6, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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