Some of the graffiti scrawled across a raft of Swissvale buildings a week ago has been cleared up, but the incident has local leaders thinking about solutions.
On April 29, Swissvale residents awoke to find nearly a score of their homes, garages and businesses "tagged" with blue and black spray-painted words reading "Ghuttacide" "C'z Up" and "Welcome 2 Da Ghuttacide."
Some thought the graffiti was the work of bored, undisciplined youths. Others said it meant that street gangs were claiming Swissvale as turf.
Swissvale Mayor Deneen Costanza Swartzwelder believes the graffiti was "an isolated incident" by a meandering "tagger." Meanwhile, however, Swissvale police have stepped up curfew enforcement, said Ms. Swartzwelder. Two weeks ago, police began warning teens under 18 that they have to turn in by 10 p.m. Soon officers will start citing violators, she added.
Still, in the case of the recent vandalism, Ms. Swartzwelder said she's hoping the tagger will just fade away.
"Hopefully, whoever did it just walked on down through Rankin and Braddock," she said in a phone interview Monday. "I saw a tag just like it in Braddock. I think it was just someone who had a can of spray paint and was just walking through."
Others too have noticed similar markings on Braddock buildings. They are covering cyberspace, too.
Two MySpace.com Web sites contain some of same words painted around Swissvale and Braddock. The sites' purported creators, "SiddiQ Roccm@n" and "Yung Ghutta", write in Web text that they live in Braddock.
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman said he's also seen the graffiti in town and acknowledges the problem, but believes that coming down hard on teens may not be the best remedy.
"You have 'C'z Up' and 'Ghuttacide,' but at the end of the day it's not a movement; it's not a reflection of what's going on," said Mr. Fetterman recently. "What you have is a disenfranchised young person who is disaffected and has few options. One shouldn't make the erroneous assumption that it's some kind of movement, some kind of criminal element."
Mr. Fetterman, who is a licensed social worker by profession, has worked with such young people for several years.
Before winning his office last year, he opened a neighborhood center called the Hill House Association. The center serves what he called "the hard-to-serve demographic" -- young local men from 16 to 20 who often are unemployed.
He said some of the teens will have creations in a Woodland Hills School District art show slated for Friday at the First Presbyterian Church, 416 Library St., Braddock.
On the other hand, Mr. Fetterman noted, the graffiti points to the saturation of urban society with the signs, symbols, clothing, music and violence of hip-hop culture, which is associated with gang members like the Crips and Bloods. Thus, the graffiti "appears more fearsome than it is."
He said his plan as mayor will be to develop a comprehensive community plan that centers on providing healthy recreational outlets for young people along with employment opportunities.
"Our playgrounds are deplorable," Mr. Fetterman said. "You can't even go out to stretch your legs at the basketball court. There's nothing for them to do. Of course they're going to get in trouble."
M. Ferguson Tinsley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1455.