What gang graffiti means

Police decode ‘C’ with an arrow, the number 8

Ben Wilson has collected about five years worth of pictures of graffiti at various sites in Jersey City.
“When I am driving to work, or driving home, I always have my camera,” Wilson said.
But Wilson isn’t just some fan of drawing. He is a Jersey City Police Detective who has developed expertise in analyzing graffiti, much of it employed by organized gangs.
Wilson displayed a photo of graffiti that showed the letter C with an arrow up and the letter B with the arrow down. That was a pointed note from someone associated with a local gang that is affiliated with the notorious Crips street gang based out of California. That person was advocating for the Crips and demeaning the B, as in the Crips’ longtime mortal enemies, the Bloods.


It is believed there are 35-40 organized gangs operating in Jersey City.

However, this visual equivalent of a throwdown also provides other clues for Detective Wilson, who works in the department’s anti-gang unit.
The graffiti tells the neighborhood which gang just moved in and whom not to offend. Also, it provides information that leads to investigations of various crimes from robbery to even murder.
Based on the amount of graffiti Wilson and other Jersey City policemen have spotted in the past year, it is believed there are 35-40 organized gangs operating in Jersey City.
It is not just those with Black and Latino members as so often depicted in the media. Wilson showed the reporter a depiction found on Ogden Avenue of two heads, one shaved head and another with a Mohawk, propped in Doc Marten boots and facing each other. “There is also an 88,” he said, “and the number 8 corresponds with the eighth letter of the alphabet, which is H. HH stands of ‘Heil, Hitler’ and is usually graffiti done by skinheads.”
Wilson recommended the “four R’s” for the public to rid the scourge of graffiti: Read, Record, Report, and Remove.

Making it disappear

Jersey City Incinerator Authority Executive Director Oren Dabney said there are about five two-man crews that make up the JCIA’s Anti-Graffiti Task Force, which is responsible for removing the graffiti that they are made aware of. It is reported by the police, the public, or through the Mayor’s Action Bureau. The crews handle up to 30 locations a day.
“The Incinerator Authority takes it very seriously when someone is vandalizing property in this city, where I also live with my family,” Dabney said. “It’s a quality of life issue.”
According to Dabney, if the surface subjected to graffiti is brick, then it is power-washed. If it’s concrete or some other surface, then they may paint over the surface. The JCIA also requires that property owners sign a release form prior to any surface being cleaned, and that they provide the paint while the JCIA will provide the labor.
Among those who have seen the work of the task force is Becky Hoffman, the president of the Riverview Neighborhood Association, which covers a large section of the Jersey City Heights.
While she commends the graffiti removal work, she also has two recommendations for working on future removal: use the right shade of paint when covering over certain surfaces and consider getting a coating material to put over other surfaces to prevent any future graffiti from staying there.
But she understands that removal work can be overwhelming. She has seen how the beloved gazebo of the Riverview-Fisk Park on Palisade Avenue has been tagged numerous times despite the best efforts to remove and prevent.
“It’s a sort of an ongoing problem. It’s really sad,” Hoffman said.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at rkaulessar@hudsonreporter.com.

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