- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

Enough is enough.

That's the message a group of local activists sent to vandals in Montgomery County, Md., as they spent yesterday morning scrubbing a graffiti-covered wall behind a car dealership in Wheaton and planting dozens of shrubs to keep would-be taggers from reaching the wall.

"This sends a clear message that we want a safe and attractive environment to live and do business," said Bev Denbo, president of Graffiti Abatement Partners (GRAB), the public-private partnership leading the initiative.

"And hopefully it will encourage residents to be on the lookout to keep vandals away from their neighborhoods," Ms. Denbo said.

The concrete wall, along Amherst Avenue behind Fitzgerald's Wheaton Dodge-Suzuki, has been hit at least three times over the past year by vandals who returned with more paint after the wall had been cleaned.

The dealership's general manager, George Sydnor, said the cleanups cost an estimated $600.

"We'd paint over the wall, and two days later the graffiti was back again," Mr. Sydnor said. "This happened three times in a row."

Yesterday, community volunteers and members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Montgomery County and the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation/Alternative Community Service Program used 14 gallons of paint to cover the graffiti, planted 66 prickly shrubs in front of the wall and spread 100 bags of mulch, all in the name of resolving what they call a community-wide problem.

"It's a way to help fix the community," said Gina Lawrence, 14, of Silver Spring, a Keystone Club member of the Boys and Girls Club.

"It means a lot because we live in this community," interjected Randall Bell, 14, of Silver Spring, also a Keystone member. "Graffiti makes it look dirty. And it feels good to clean it up."

The shrubs and mulch were provided by True Colors Design.

"Right now this wall is like a canvas and is easily accessible," said Faith Weidler, GRAB's executive director, as she stood in front of the marked wall. "It's all about making this wall and others like it less friendly for taggers."

Called the Graffiti Prevention Initiative, the cleanup effort was developed by Montgomery County Council member Marilyn Praisner and former council member Betty Ann Krahnke. Both women believed that adding shrubs and other natural barriers would protect open areas from becoming targets of future vandals.

"No one likes to drive, walk or work by a wall that has graffiti on it," said Mrs. Praisner, District 4 Democrat, who helped plant a shrub in front of the wall yesterday. "Everybody wants an attractive place to live and work and play. Graffiti is a problem that the community can tackle collectively."

And the idea has taken off.

Since last spring volunteers have cleaned up more than 20,000 square feet of graffiti in public spaces throughout the county, Ms. Denbo said.

"For me it's extremely rewarding," said Eric Seleznow, work force manager of the Corrections Department's community service work crew program, whose members, all juvenile and adult offenders, help out on such projects.

"The county is doing a great thing to make a difference," Mr. Seleznow added.

The cleanup also improves the quality of life in the county and helps decrease crime in neighborhoods, said Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler.

"When criminals see an area covered with graffiti, they see an opportunity to commit more crime," Mr. Gansler said. "By erasing and preventing vandals from spray-painting the walls of our neighborhoods, we can send a powerful message that any crime, no matter how small, will not be tolerated."

But, will the initiative work? Maybe or maybe not, but at least it's a start, volunteers and community leaders say.

"I don't have any illusions that we can stop graffiti everywhere, but this is a start," said Council Vice President Blair Ewing, at-large Democrat. "I think it'll work here. But we have to figure out how to reach those kids who do this. That's hard."

As for Mr. Sydnor, whose rear wall has become a favorite spot for graffiti, he hopes the initiative will work but argues that it may take time to catch on.

"For those kids who do it for fun, I think the landscape may stop them from coming near the wall," he said. "But for those hardcore ones, it might take some time for them to stop. I just hope in my case this will be the last time we clean up my wall."

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