The graffiti wall will not be coming to Hamilton Hill after all.
City officials backtracked in the face of heavy criticism Monday night.
“You want to put a wall at Jerry Burrell Park? For graffiti? Come on! We cannot have that,” said resident Marva Isaacs, one of many speakers at the City Council meeting who complained about the proposed “positive expression” wall.
“Why don’t you put it in Central Park? Because we don’t count,” Isaacs said. “You don’t care about Hamilton Hill, period.”
Last week, City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo proposed a new program to clean up graffiti throughout the city. Those on probation, in the county jail and in the alternative-to-incarceration program would scrub off graffiti and repaint. Graffiti “artists” would be given a “positive expression” board on which to showcase their spray-painting skills.
Perazzo said she wanted five or more walls throughout the city, with the first being at Jerry Burrell Park in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood.
On Monday, she said she was taken by surprise at the reaction from neighborhood residents, who called and emailed to complain about the wall.
A number of residents who do not usually attend council meetings came to express their anger at the idea.
“We have gangs up there that will claim territory of the wall, and then there will be fights over the wall. Things will be written that don’t need to be there,” said resident Christine Palmer.
Resident Beverly Perryman added that it wouldn’t help improve the neighborhood. “We are striving to better our community and we need your help,” she said.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield even spoke up, saying that Hamilton Hill residents have asked for many initiatives from the city that have not been implemented. A graffiti wall was not on the list, she said.
Her mother, the Rev. Diana Fletcher, stood up at the end of the meeting to lead the crowd in a protest against the wall.
“Say no, no, no to a graffiti board, a graffiti sign, a graffiti wall or any of its likes to be placed in Jerry Burrell Park or any other location in my neighborhood,” she said. “So to whoever likes graffiti walls, I say to take it closer to home. No, no, no to the graffiti wall in my neighborhood. It does not fit. We do not need any negativity.”
Perazzo initially defended the idea, saying Hamilton Hill was chosen for the first graffiti wall because it has the largest number of buildings hit by graffiti.
“Hamilton Hill was chosen as a privilege, not as a last resort,” she said, adding, that in her research, successful graffiti-fighting programs all had a “positive expression” wall.
“This is a good thing, not a bad thing,” she said, arguing that people shouldn’t just assume it would become a problem.
“We had youth signed up to watch the wall, whitewash it, paint over anything inappropriate,” she said.
But Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city would find another location for the wall.
“We’re not going to put a graffiti wall up in Jerry Burrell Park when it’s creating this level of controversy,” he said. “We want to work with people. We want to make things better. We’re not looking to do things that divide people and polarize.”
Perazzo said she’s not sure where the wall will be placed now. She said she would welcome ideas for new locations.