Mayfield vows fight to clean up graffiti|[6/3/06]

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 5, 2006

It is not the sprawling, often colorful graffiti usually associated with street gangs in other cities, but North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said this week he will not wait for clusters of signs and slogans he’s recently spotted scrawled around Vicksburg to grow into a bigger problem.

&#8220This is not just anybody who’s doing this. This is for real,” Mayfield said as he inspected parts of his ward &#8220inundated” with spray-painted symbols he believes could be gang-related. &#8220I can’t speak to whether it’s gang members or some youngsters with nothing better to do than go out and defame property. All I know is I want it stopped and I want it stopped immediately.”

To that end, Mayfield said he plans to meet with Police Chief Tommy Moffett to come up with ways to encourage citizens to report vandalism, broken windows and other small crimes, anonymously if the caller prefers, in hopes that closer vigilance in the community will also help stem robberies, thefts and violence.

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&#8220I want to be sure that these people know that it’s not going unnoticed,” Mayfield said.

His push follows Moffett’s announcement in April that officers would begin cracking down on loitering and loud music, an initiative focused on businesses after four people were injured in a shooting in a McDonald’s parking lot on Clay Street a week earlier. No arrests have been made in that case.

Toya Miles called the group that sprayed the street in front of her house in the 1600 block of Martin Luther King Boulevard &#8220wannabe thugs,” kids, she said, who sometimes come through in the early-morning hours. A small stretch of road there is covered with names and nicknames, symbols and, most disturbingly to Mayfield, one apparent threat.

&#8220Most of the time it’ll be the same little crew,” said Miles, a recent transplant from Minnesota. &#8220They’re always fighting, but when the police come everybody’s gone.”

Some of the graffiti appears to be mostly benign boasting, said police investigators who looked at photos, people marking territory with handles like &#8220Boosie,” &#8220Lil L” and &#8220J-Nay.” Some of the symbols used are signs often associated with large national groups, such as crowns and at least one five-point star, both signifying gangs in the &#8220People Nation,” one of the two hierarchical &#8220nations” with which most organized street gangs identify.

Another, however, apparently done by the same person or group, read &#8220Bo$,” frequent shorthand for &#8220Brothers of the Struggle,” a slogan associated with the rival &#8220Folk Nation.” There was also the message &#8220Meet me in Sub it’s going down (remix),” a reference to a housing project on nearby Elizabeth Circle which Mayfield took as a specific call to violence.

&#8220This is dangerous because they’re calling somebody out,” he said. &#8220That tells me there’s activity right there.”

There has been no recent violence around Elizabeth Circle, however, said VPD Sgt. Tom Wilson, who recognized several of the symbols on Martin Luther King and another, a crown painted on a brick wall beside the initials &#8220BGD” at Grove and First North streets associated with the national &#8220Black Gangsta Disciples,” but was hesitant to draw any larger conclusions about possible gang influence.

&#8220This is definitely a crime, it’s vandalism, but just by looking I can’t say if this is an adult or a kid out of school trying to portray themselves as something,” he said. &#8220I don’t see the threats and the numbers that would usually affiliate this with gangs.”

There was some low-level gang activity when he came to Vicksburg from Hattiesburg in 1992, Wilson said, when some people imitated colors and styles of large groups like the &#8220Crips” and covered vacant buildings with spray paint. But there was no organization or contact with any national gangs, he said, and since many of the people behind that activity were arrested and handed long prison sentences, gang-related graffiti, symbols and other signifiers have dissipated almost entirely.

&#8220I have not seen this since 1992 or ‘93,” he said. &#8220We’ve had no investigations involving people portraying themselves as gang members,” including those conducted since Hurricane Katrina, which other, larger cities – most notably Houston – have blamed for increases in violence due to the forced displacement of gang members from New Orleans.

&#8220Our city has been lucky in that regard,” Wilson said.

Deputy Chief Richard O’Bannon also downplayed the presence of more sinister gang activity, saying the department would work with Mayfield to spread awareness and combat further incidents, but describing the graffiti as &#8220rare” and, for now, simply &#8220malicious mischief,” typically a misdemeanor depending on the amount and value of property affected.

The department’s investigations head, Capt. Mark Culbertson, was more blunt, echoing Miles’ assessment of the offenders as &#8220wannabes” even while acknowledging that small issues like vandalism can quickly grow out of control if not taken seriously.

&#8220If you ignore it, that’s when you get behind,” he said.

On that sentiment, Mayfield can agree.

&#8220If you want a city to look bad, if you want people to arrive at the wrong conclusion of your city at first sight, let them see a lot of that,” he said, pointing to the graffiti on Grove Street Wednesday. &#8220I just hope it’s not a sign of what’s to come.”