Yesterday, I took some shots and ran into a family friend who also lived in the area. His house was the second to last on the north side to be bought out, and he moved just a couple weeks ago. He too was back visiting. We had a conversation about the house I was in process of photographing, one which was shredded on the outside. He explained to me that it wasn’t vandals looking for scrap metal (which was my suspicion) but, rather the asbestos removal crew. Apparently, they used to be more discrete in their work… now that nobody cares, they are able to rip in. During our brief conversation, we saw the same airport cop drive by twice. At the second passing, I asked Mike if he has seen them before. “Nah, I guess the guy is just lost. Can’t figure out where the airport is. Maybe I should tell him to follow the planes coming in, but this is more fun to watch.” Mike’s lighthearted comment didn’t detract from my suspicion that this is their area to patrol now.
And today, I got confirmation that it is true- the area is no longer within Bridgeton’s boundaries. Its the airport’s to patrol, out of the hands of the city of Bridgeton.
There wasn’t much to photograph yesterday. Nothing has happened to the area since last weekend, so I just took some interesting artsy shots, had my random conversation with Mike and left. This morning I had a strange idea for an art project. I decided to scout Carrollton to look for an area which would be perfect for the project. I didn’t bring the cameras because, well, I was just there yesterday. I sometimes forget that a lot can happen in an abandoned area in 24 hours.
I saw something that I refuse to photograph. Of all the graffiti I photograph and document, I refuse to give attention to those who promote hate. About 10 houses were tagged with swastikas, the n-word, and kkk support. I was filled anger beyond rage at such pathetic and sick markings. Yes, I have been documenting graffiti drawings and other tagging, broken windows, intentional damage to the houses, and burned homes that were likely arson. Vandalism of that degree is not exactly a good thing, but it can and should be expected. Messages of hate, however, crosses the line to something that is beyond criminal. It becomes sick, cowardice, and chances are, done for shock value.
I was ready to grab a bucket of paint and start covering it up. I thought it would be best, however, to notify the police before I go fighting back. That and I have my own line not to cross… I told myself many times in the past year that I am the one documenting… my job is to preserve the images, not to disrupt the chain of events. Thus far, I have been careful to not disrupt so much as a rock.
The police was the first step if I am to do anything. So I went to city hall to notify them of the markings. A very polite officer came to speak to me and told me they were already aware of the situation. He also told me that Carrollton is no longer theirs to patrol. It is now in the hands of the airport police and they are now in charge of the investigation with the help of Bridgeton police.
The officer did tell me that they know the kid who did some of the previous graffiti and they were going to question him regarding the recent hate markings. The problem I see is that graffiti, although considered a crime, is also a large form of handwriting. Every individual’s mark-making style varies greatly from one person to the next, whether its on a piece of paper or a side of a building. What strikes me odd is that the earlier kid does have a hand in drawing and has enough control of line to show some manner of intelligence. The hate crap, however, was done so very crudely (and incorrectly in some cases), covered a large number of dwellings in colors not used in the earlier graffiti, and sprayed icons and phrases so childishly that it doesn’t exactly fit the context of his previous images. My gut feeling is that it wasn’t this kid the police have their eye on, but some disgustingly ignorant bigot. I’m not entirely defending the previous kid either. In fact, I believe they should question him… he now has a record for his actions. For all anyone knows, he could have done it or know of who did it. However, I hope they do not stop with only him in the investigation and realize that there is some evidence that it could have been another person or group.
The fact that this graffiti has gone beyond normal vandalism has other implications as well. For one, the airport might start tearing down the houses faster. Of course that means I will have nothing left to document when they are gone, but I am very glad that they took my own home before it was vandalized to hell. I feel for the people who will drive by the places where they raised their kids only to experience the shock of some stupid pro-kkk message on their old garage. (And yes, every weekend I see different families loaded in cars, driving past and pointing to the places they used to call home). Some of the houses left have sat for more than a year. I do not believe the airport has been considerate to the former owners when they allow these dwellings to sit and be abused to this extent. When Bridgeton was in charge, the city would paint over vandalized homes. Now that this is the airport’s, who knows how fast it will take them to cover up the deplorable images. Maybe at least they will pick up the pace of the tear-down.
The second implication is the one I fear will happen, and soon. It is sad to see any house go. Truthfully, its a mixed reaction- you’re happy that they’re going because of the conditions of these places, but at the same time you wish it didn’t have to be like this at all… you wish people were still there, happy, living like normal where they wanted to be. However, I will be even more sad to see the area gated off, especially if the gates come before the remaining houses are gone. I won’t get to witness their erasure and to tell their final stories. I want to see the area become a park or nature preserve (which is in the works between Bridgeton and the airport for a portion of the southern section). I have a feeling that my area on the northern side may become some industrial/business park. There already exists one on the very back side of the subdivision and it wouldn’t take much to bring it in further. What I don’t want to see is for the area to be gated and closed off forever like they did to some of the oldest buyouts off Gist Road. Yet, if this keeps up, I could see them setting up the gates in attempt to keep the vandals out.
Once again, I will not take nor post pictures of the hate vandalism. I do not wish to give it any credit or attention, more than what has already been given them. I will, however, post pictures when it is covered up. If it doesn’t get covered up this week, well, I might be the one covered in paint next weekend. And no, I will not cover up the old graffiti that has nothing to do with hate speech. Sorry, but that doesn’t anger me as much.
Finally… the photo project idea I had this morning… the whole reason I even went back in there today in the first place. I had the idea of once again tying yellow ribbons like we did in the 1990s to all the trees left on one empty street. It would make a nice contrast to the photos of the 90s where there were actually houses and people in the lots. Of course, I would take the ribbons down when I was done. : ) Well, maybe I’d leave them there for a week or so… but I doubt anyone left at the airport would get it. The politics, ownership, everything has changed over the years. Everything except for the plans to expand… that’s been the constant for almost 20 years. (See the introduction tag to understand the yellow ribbon concept). For the people who drive by their old houses and see the ribbons tied to their old trees, they will more than just ‘get it’… hopefully, they will understand it. They will understand that the community is not gone… just… forcefully dispersed.