Column: Graffiti is a lot more serious than a just teen mischief

For a couple of years, it was a blank slate, minding its own business as just a crossroads of busy auto and heavy freight train traffic. But, in the end, the Route 41 bridge over Grand Avenue in Gurnee proved too much of a challenge for vandals.

A few days ago, an aspiring graffiti “artist,” or group of “artists,” spoiled the blank canvas and spray-painted some stupid saying on the west side of the state-owned overpass taking northbound Route 41 traffic over Grand Avenue, which heads east into Waukegan.


It is a stain that should be removed.

Obviously, the alleged criminals — because vandalism is a crime in Illinois, and depending on the amount of damage it could be a felony — are brainless. They are like others who place their marks on public property, like wild animals leaving spoor to outline their territory.


Or those still roaming about, who in November defaced graves with Nazi symbols in red spray paint at Waukegan’s Jewish Am Echod Cemetery. Or those who use railroad box cars for colorful canvases.

Ever sit at an at-grade crossing waiting for ever-longer freight trains and notice that most of the cars are overwhelmed with graffiti murals? Some are creative; others, just plain ignorant.

Then there’s spray-paint tagging by gangs to stamp their areas. Yet, one study has found that 90% of graffiti is created by teens with no gang affiliations.

Indeed, graffiti scholars — yup, they exist — have determined about half of graffiti vandalism is caused by teenage males living in suburbs. It is a dangerous stunt climbing several stories, normally at night, to deliver their “artwork.”

Certainly, it’s hazardous to summertime pranksters on a mission to vandalize. Cars and semi-trucks fly by on that portion of Route 41. A slight misstep, and there’s a pedestrian fatal in the making.

Perhaps that’s part of the graffiti code: The daring, the attention-getting bravado involved in spray-painting something which eventually will be seen by thousands.

Many don’t consider graffiti a criminal enterprise. But it is a pain for police department community service officers who usually are tasked with tracking down those responsible for tagging public transportation, businesses, schools and traffic signs. It’s also costly to state and local governments.

Completion of the Route 41 bridge project, which cost the state more than $20 million, was in the spring of 2021. That was after nearly six years of on-and-off construction, including new north and south bridge decks, along with a double-track span for Union Pacific freights.


Eventually, crews will be paid to remove the vandalism. Perhaps it already has been erased since last Wednesday when I saw it.

Knowing how slow IDOT can move, it’s probably still up there for motorists to see. The sooner the graffiti is removed, the better.

That’s because graffiti can give the impression areas are unsafe and can effect property values. Residents feel threatened by graffiti.

The cleanup will cost all of us tax money, including the parents of the vandals. The U.S. Department of Justice has estimated that $12 billion a year is spent to clean up graffiti across the nation.

Other estimates peg the cost of removal at between $2 and $3 a square foot. That’s something vandals fail to take into consideration when they embark on their misdeeds.

They probably don’t care. To prevent graffiti from reoccurring, there are coatings to ensure spray paints don’t stick to brick, cement and steel.


Experts say graffiti has been with us for centuries. Early man painted on cave walls, leaving their artwork behind for modern men to discover.

Political graffiti became popular during the late 1960s and early ‘70s, as Vietnam War protesters marked university buildings and college campus statues with spray-painted anti-war slogans. That was followed by the rise and fame of urban “art” taggers and muralists, starting in New York City.

According to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, based at Arizona State University in Tempe, spray-paint vandals conduct “a psychological battle” with authorities. They also seem to pick riskier and riskier places to vandalize.

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Others contend graffiti is a cultural activity. Murals done on underpasses and building walls, sanctioned by authorities, can be works of fanciful street art.

Graffiti? Sorry, but no.

IDOT needs to quickly get someone to the Route 41 bridge and have the graffiti removed. If not, it invites more unsightly “art” and copycats.


Nobody with any actual artistic flair wants that.

Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.

Twitter: @sellenews

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