I imagine that all of us have dreamt, at one time or another, of the fun and power of becoming a crime-fighting superhero. Maybe it’s been decades, back in your days of reading comic books or watching the Superman or the old Batman TV shows, or during your grown-up years with all the action movies. What a thrill to to fight crime in such a good-looking outfit, complete with impervious powers.
Well, I have discovered a perfect way to turn any one of us mild-mannered Southwest residents into a bona fide superhero.
It all started a few months ago when graffiti punks hit our business corner at 38th and Grand. They spray painted our bus benches, our newspaper and stoplight boxes, and a few walls.
Historically, and geographically, we haven’t had much graffiti over the years on our corner. Our neighbors to the east, closer to the interstate, certainly do and, clearly, it’s more common around my Lyndale neighborhood and as you head more north toward Downtown.
But I hadn’t given it much attention until they hit us this spring.
This is how I discovered the thrill of becoming a superhero. Once I learned how easy it was to clean up the graffiti on my corner, I started carrying the removal supplies in the trunk of my car.
Now as I drive around my neighborhood, I’ll just stop and clean up graffiti I spot on non-windy days. There is something surprisingly empowering, and fun, about wiping out all traces of the bad guys with a spray bottle and a rag. You should try it. If it’s windy or you don’t feel like stopping yourself, you can use your handy cell phone to battle the graffiti crime just as easily.
When the graffiti is on public property, you can call it in, report the details and ensure the city will dispatch a crew to clean it up. Start by calling 311 to report it. There’s a special extension built into the 311 system for reporting graffiti. When you call it in, they’d like to know the exact location, the date you think it appeared, and a description of the symbols and words, as well as the color of the paint. They then send the report to the Minneapolis Clean City Services Graffiti team who will come take a photo of it and clean it up. (In May, the average cleanup time took five days.)
I didn’t realize how easy this was, nor did I realize that the city doesn’t clean up graffiti, except for the occasional “sweeps,” unless it gets called in. If the graffiti is on your property, you’re responsible for its removal, but the city would like to get the report and photograph the graffiti before you remove it.
Some people may believe that graffiti isn’t a big deal, but it is a powerful reflection of darker crimes and activities; and it is important to remove it as soon as it appears. Malcolm Gladwell writes about the importance of countering graffiti in his great book, “The Tipping Point,” wherein he explains that graffiti is a small expression of disorder that invites more serious crimes.
So with this pretty simple response, we can become the superheros we’ve dreamed of. You only need three things: a cell phone (think of it as the “bat phone” direct to Commissioner Gordon), a big ziplock baggie to keep in the trunk of your car with rags, a scrubby sponge, a pair of neoprene rubber gloves from the hardware store, and a bottle of graffiti remover (available free to every Minneapolis citizen at all the Minneapolis fire stations) and of course, your own cape to wear.
Terre Thomas has lived in the Lyndale neighborhood for 17 years and owns Fairy Godmother, a gift shop in the Kingfield neighborhood.