The Mess That's Hard To Miss

"Nehi" graffiti is spotted on 14th Street NW near T Street. The tags began appearing six to eight weeks ago, in the Logan and Shaw neighborhoods. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2007

The spray-painted tags recently began appearing on buildings, signs and other places in Northwest Washington: a burst of graffiti that has police and other city workers scrambling to keep up.

Magic. Tragic. Nehi. Inca. On block after block, these and other words are scrolled in fancy script two inches tall, blown up in bubble letters or scribbled in a crude style that can be nearly illegible.

The sudden outbreak of graffiti is reminiscent of the damage caused by one of the city's most prolific taggers in recent years, a vandal known as Borf. Police eventually caught up with Borf -- John Tsombikos -- and he was given a 30-day jail term last year for destruction of property. Officials hope a similar fate awaits whoever is now defacing many neighborhoods.

Some city officials said there is suspicion that some of the tagging is gang-related, but police think the work is coming from someone in the mold of Borf, a teenager who left his mark at dozens of places, including walls and dumpsters.

"It's a Borf-like avalanche that is occurring," said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

The graffiti began appearing six to eight weeks ago, stretching from the Logan and Shaw neighborhoods to communities in upper Northwest along Georgia Avenue and 13th and 14th streets. Banneker Community Center near Howard University, under renovation, was among the places hit. But the taggers aren't choosy: They've struck stop signs, utility boxes, fences -- anything that can make a quick canvas.

According to city records, 72 percent of the complaints of graffiti sightings in the past six months have come from Wards 1, 2 and 4 -- 857 reports in those wards alone. Lately, officials said, the pace has picked up.

Early Sunday, an off-duty police officer spotted two vandals spray-painting "JUJU" on the wall of a McDonald's in the 1400 block of U Street NW. Two suspects were caught with nine cans of spray paint and adhesive they used to make the letters, police said.

Police said they hope to catch others in the act.

"We're looking for them. I can't wait until we get them," said Cmdr. Larry McCoy, whose 3rd Police District has been hard hit.

The city's six graffiti removal workers are stepping up efforts, too. Yesterday, Michael Stover, supervisor of graffiti abatement for the city's Department of Public Works, led his crew on streets and alleys in the Brightwood neighborhood where tags such as "Inca" and "Nuk" are prevalent.

"We prioritize schools, churches and historical buildings first," Stover said. "Then, public space. Then, citizen property."

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