Police officials said they hope two recent arrests of suspected vandals will stop a spate of gang graffiti tagging that has repeatedly marred fences, walls and outdoor art in Santa Rosa’s South Park neighborhood over the past several months.
On Friday, officers arrested a 17-year-old Santa Rosa boy who they suspect scrawled the bulk of the gang symbols and threats on a mural at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Hendley Street, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Tommy Isachsen said.
Painted in 2011, the mural features portraits of people important to civil rights and the South Park community, including Cesar Chavez, the labor leader and organizer, and the late Rev. James E. Coffee of Community Baptist church.
The vandalism to the large mural — eight feet high and 29 feet wide on the outside wall of a Head Start preschool in the park — stirred public outcry and fueled frustration about opposing norteño and sureño gang members covering images of people credited with trying to promote equality and opportunity.
Within two days after the vandalism was publicized in early June, community groups had raised more than $7,500 to help the nonprofit that runs Head Start, Community Action Partnership, repaint the mural.
The most recent spate of graffiti appeared about one week ago on the preschool buildings in the park. The surfaces had only just been repainted because of earlier graffiti, Isachsen said.
Detectives arrested Angel Alberto Santiago, 21, of Santa Rosa who they suspect painted the graffiti because of the tags used, tips and other evidence. Santiago was booked into Sonoma County Jail on Wednesday on suspicion of felony vandalism and a gang enhancement and has since been released.
On Saturday afternoon at the park, families stretched out on blankets on the lawn, watching children swing from the playground monkey bars. The bell of an ice cream vendor rang as he slowly peddled his bike down the sidewalk.
Several yards away, graffiti tagging with words “evil” and “murder” marred the gray wall where the mural hung before it was taken down earlier this month.
Seated on a bench, Shawndell Garrison, 42, of Santa Rosa sipped a soda in the shade while the teen he cares for, an 18-year-old with significant disabilities, exchanged smiles with a toddler on a playground platform.
Garrison said that graffiti is a fact of life for many lower-income neighborhoods like South Park, and he barely notices it anymore.
“It’s just little kids with no parental guidance, with no respect,” Garrison said. “They think it’s cool, but once you’re older, you know it’s not.”
Isachsen said the vandalism in the neighborhood was so extensive in part because the initial graffiti apparently went unreported for several weeks, drawing more paint.
Detectives suspect the 17-year-old teen, who wasn’t identified because of his age, painted the majority of gang-related graffiti found throughout the park in June. That includes graffiti on the mural and in other areas of the neighborhood, particularly buildings on Temple Avenue hit at about the same time, Isachsen said.
But police suspect the teen wasn’t the first person to vandalize the mural.
Graffiti from a rival gang had apparently showed up first on the mural sometime in May.
Police suspect the teen painted the response in coded threats and by tagging more extensively throughout the neighborhood. Isachsen said the teen is also suspected of at least ten other gang-related graffiti crimes elsewhere in Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa graffiti hotline
Report graffiti by calling Santa Rosa’s graffiti hotline at 543-3499 or by visiting http://srcity.org/MySantaRosa.
Residents can also download the “My Santa Rosa” app for smart phones on iTunes.