The A-Team Fights East End Graffiti

It's a problem that just won't go away. Graffiti. It's gotten so bad that Texas lawmakers recently changed the laws to impose stricter penalties on convicted taggers. In Houston's East End, businesses pay an extra tax that helps make sure tagger's so called artwork doesn't stay up very long. Bill Stamps explains.
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Most people associate graffiti with dangerous street gangs. The "taggers," as they're called, may be gang members or just juveniles with nothing better to do. Some even call their work art. But whatever you want to call it…if you do it in the East End, you're wasting your time. That's because of the A-Team, or Martin Chavez's Graffiti Abatement Team.

"They'll come out here 2 or 3 times. They see that we take it off within a day they're gonna move, because they took the chance of putting this up here and if it gets taken off quickly then, there's a chance that they might get caught, so just move on to other areas."


(Sounds of painting over graffiti)


Chavez has three crews that paint or wash away anywhere from 10 to 40 graffiti sites a day. And they don't just use any color that could leave the building worse off than before.

"We look at what type of surface it is. If we have to color match, we have special techniques to match color, because our goal is to restore the buildings back to their original color and condition."


Cliff Kehler manages a business in the East End. He says graffiti can definitely be bad for business.

"I think it just discourages customers if they're not feeling secure and safe, if they think gangs are hanging out in the area so the best thing is to clean it up and it looks clean and fresh and make sure the customers feel welcome and safe."


So when they see a tagged wall they call Chavez' A-team. And within a day or so the graffiti is gone. That's good for businesses and residents, but not so good for the people who put it there. And sometimes they get really angry. Some have even threatened them.

(Bill) "What do they say?"

(Martin) "They say, 'why are you taking off my piece?'—that's the word that they use. And they say 'I'm gonna come back in a little bit. I'm gonna come and shoot you'."

In recent years, places like California have seen people killed while confronting taggers. But Chavez says he's not scared.

(Bill) "So, if they paint it, it's gonna be gone?"

( Martin) "Exactly, that's the key. You know taking it off as soon as we see it and it'll be gone, and it's gonna look good. It's gonna look good."

Bill Stamps, KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.







This story first aired on July 17, 2009.