“Knock it off!”
That’s what Kamehameha Schools senior Hina Delaries had to say Saturday to any Hawaii Island vandals who choose to deface public and private property with unwanted tagging and graffiti.
“It just makes downtown look not nice, and not cared about,” she said as she and a group of volunteers worked to paint over graffiti on walls around Hilo — many of them singled out by vandals on a regular basis.
“They like spots that can be seen, spots where they put their tags and people can see they were there. … It’s a community problem,” said Hawaii Community Policing Officer Gregg Silva.
“Graffiti is never ending,” said Alice Moon, executive director of Hilo’s Downtown Improvement Association. “There are some places that they look at as an empty canvas. If you take the time to paint over it, they do come back. The tagging in particular. … When people are talking about graffiti, they call it the broken-window syndrome. If you leave it broken, it sends a signal that it’s OK to break more windows and make it worse. It sends the message that it’s OK, we don’t care.”
The 17-year-old Delaries is an aspiring police officer, and when she began researching potential community service projects to complete as part of her school’s senior project requirements, graffiti in and around Hilo quickly became her focus.
“At first, people didn’t really notice it or think about it. But when I talked with people about it, they’d call me back a week later and say ‘Yeah, I just remembered where there’s some.’ You notice it when you’re looking for it, when you’re thinking about it. It’s all over,” she said.
After receiving help from the Community Policing division and the Downtown Improvement Association to identify areas that needed painting, Delaries set about building a network of friends, family and students to help her tackle Hilo’s graffiti problem.
“We had to talk to building managers and owners, to get their permission. And we had to find the right color paint,” she said.
The group also received donations of supplies from Dion Kawakami, the contractor who recently completed Bayfront’s Benjamin Moore face-lift project, as well as donations and support from area business and government leaders including real estate agent Jan Mahuna and Prosecutor Mitch Roth.
But on Saturday, it all came down to elbow grease. Delaries and her fellow volunteers were covered in splashes of white primer as the worked on a patch of wall at the farmer’s exchange on Kinoole Street.
“We just have to keep working at it,” said Jeff Melrose, past president of the Downtown Improvement Association. “It will likely always be a problem. … But, if we can clean it up, let’s clean it up.”
With that in mind, Delaries said she hopes her graffiti project can be picked up by another Kamehameha student next year.
“I’d like to see it keep going,” she said.
Meanwhile, business owners and residents who see vandals spray painting are encouraged to call the police and report it, said Silva.
“We’ll come out, take pictures and document it,” he said. “It’s criminal property damage. Often, the monetary value for one instance isn’t very much. But if we can document many instances and build a case to prosecute, it can end up being a lot of money.”
He added that building owners who want to protect their buildings can take a few simple steps to make them less attractive to vandals.
“Big, wide open walls are like a canvas. … Put in some planter boxes or trees, so people can’t see the wall as well. They won’t want to paint there. They want people to see it,” he said. “Or call an artist and put in a mural. They don’t seem to paint over those. … And, put up lights, so people can see the building better at night. (Vandals) like to be off main areas so people can’t see them doing it.”
Mahuna, whose building on Kinoole Street was hit by a tagger last Sunday, has had to deal with the problem for years, and recently went the extra mile and installed a security camera outside the building.
“We have a picture of the perpetrator,” Silva said. “So, hopefully, that will help us catch him.”
To get involved with future cleanup efforts, contact the Community Policing office at 961-8121.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.