Two years ago, Nevada artist Mitzi Alexander was enjoying a wonderful time of community interaction as she painted a tribute to honor local veterans on a wall at a park in the north part of Nevada.
“I wanted to support veterans, and I thought that (painting) would be my contribution,” she said, looking back on that summer as a very positive experience, as so many people, young and old, walked up to talk to her about her work as she was painting. After the work was completed, a dedication of the piece of art was held by the local American Legion and Legion Auxiliary and many veterans and community members were there. It was all very special to Alexander.
Now two years later, Alexander, last week, took her first look at the wall and her painting, after hearing through social media reports that it had been vandalized.
There it was, big strokes of black spray paint, part of it with X’s and a line that made it look like an odd smiley face.
The veterans’ painting at Hattery Park (or the park some refer to as North Park or Walker Park) wasn’t the only thing that was marred by these very same strokes of paint in the past week or so.
Members of the Nevada community have recognized similar strokes of graffiti on a van at NuCara Pharmacy, a train crossing bar and a building at the corner of Fifth and J, and all of this set off a flurry of remarks on social media. “Stupid, sickening, disrespectful, wrong” … these were some of the words being used to describe the vandalism.
It was even suggested, because of so many similar markings in town, that maybe there is some kind of gang in Nevada. That’s not likely, said Nevada Police Chief Ricardo Martinez.
“Gangs are generally organized with a hierarchy and their goal is generally to make money. To make money they do things illegally and often get involved in drugs. I wouldn’t say there’s a group of gang members going around tagging things,” Martinez said. “I would say there are kids who like to hang out together and are creating havoc together.”
Martinez said criminal mischief, which includes acts of vandalism, like damaging or defacing property, is 85 to 90 percent of the time done by juveniles. “We’ve noticed an uptick in criminal mischief complaints since school let out,” he said.
Nevada Director of Parks and Recreation Tim Hansen has noticed the same. Since school let out, the Parks and Rec department has found spray painting on trail signs at the end of Eighth Street, on the trail surface, on trash barrels and on the concrete bridge beams along the trail. Also happening this past year at some point, the department has had REAP signs stolen.
“It’s just frustrating — the lack of respect for public property,” Hansen said. He said the expense of repairs or replacement on all these sorts of things adds up. “It’s work that’s really unnecessary if people would just respect someone else’s property.”
In the case of the painting at Hattery Park, Hansen and Alexander say they’ve communicated via email about her taking on the repairs. Hansen said the department is more than willing to help her if they can, and Alexander said maybe the community will donate once again to help a little in the effort as well.
Hansen told the Journal on Monday of this week that over the most recent weekend vandals were at work again, with more spray painting at the park.
All of this is where Cathy Vincent and friends are stepping in. (See sidebar with this story.) Vincent said a group of concerned neighbors and residents is trying to organize an event at the park, during which donations can help with a number of things there — vandalism, a new slide, cleaning up, etc.
Nevada City Councilman Brett Barker, who is also vice president of operations for NuCara Pharmacy, is disappointed that “a few bad eggs have total disregard for the hard work that so many put into making Nevada a great community.” Not only is Barker upset about the vandalism at the park, but his company’s van was also spray-painted and needed to be repaired in the past week. It had been parked behind the NuCara building, which is on Sixth Street, when the destruction occurred. He said some of the businesses have cameras and footage that will be reviewed by the police to try to tract down the guilty party or parties.
Alexander’s first thoughts about the destruction to her beautiful painting were of the person, or people, who did it. “Whoever did this is hurting and wants to be heard. I wasn’t angry, but disappointed. Very disappointed,” she said. She wondered if the person or people responsible have any idea of the sacrifices that the veterans, for whom the painting was dedicated, have made.
“The message that it (the destruction) gives is that veterans aren’t important,” she said. And that’s a very sad thing.
Alexander plans to repair the painting, although she said finding the time to do so is going to be the toughest part. She’s in a little different position this year, because she’s working at a job and getting ready to start in the graphic design program at Iowa State for her Master of Fine Arts degree, something she’s very excited about pursuing.
When she did the original painting, which was a new type of work for her because it was on a wall in the outdoors, she said she followed recommendations to protect it against vandalism. This involved using certain types of sealer on it. If that sealer works the way it is supposed to, she said, she might only have to take off the top layer to remove the spray paint, then replace more sealer over it. If it doesn’t work, and parts of the original painting start to come off, Alexander said she will take the time to redo those parts so that it can look the way it was originally intended to look.
Those committing these acts, if caught, will face some level of criminal mischief charge or charges, usually depending on the monetary amount of damage and the cost to replace or repair the property. In the case of the graffiti over the painting at the park, Martinez said that you would need to take into consideration how much it will cost to repair that painting back to its original state.
As suggested by Alexander, it would seem appropriate that the vandals might be made to sit down with a group of veterans and listen to them talk about what the painting and the flag mean to them. Martinez said that isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility. “If it’s juveniles, they are generally referred to the juvenile courts system and there’s a variety of ways they can deal with that, such as community service, restitution and probation..” and even, he said, possibly having to sit down with veterans. Because such juvenile cases are handled informally, and the police and county attorney are involved, sometimes suggestions such as this are included in the probation.
As for solving cases of vandalism, Martinez said, some are solved; some are never solved, and the police have up to a year to make an arrest. In many cases, he said, kids talk. “Generally they tell kids and eventually, someone will call us and give us information. Does it happen right away? Generally not. Does it always happen? No. But when and if we do find them, we address it.”
As for facing the future and making these types of crimes harder to commit, Barker said he thinks lighting and surveillance might help. “We need to make sure commonly vandalized areas are well-lit, look into cost-effective surveillance solutions and continue focused efforts by our police officers to identify the individuals responsible.”
Residents concerned about Hattery Park (also known as North Park and Walker Park) are hoping to hold a fundraising and social gathering soon to help the city with efforts to repair and replace things that need to be fixed at the park.
Cathy Vincent, one of the people involved in organizing an event, said originally a group of residents was talking about doing something to help raise funds to replace the slide and other broken playground equipment. Then, as they were talking, the vandalism occurred to the veterans’ painting in the park.
“It’s a family park and people aren’t happy with all the trash and bad stuff that is going on at this park,” Vincent said.
She asks that residents who would be interested in helping in any way to organize or put on this event, contact her at 382-4283 (leave a message if no one answers), or message her on Facebook, or stop by her store, Gypsy Alley, on Lincoln Highway.