Quick response to art installation raises questions of equity

The Colorado Springs Quality of Life Team removed an art installation spelling out ‘BLM’ shortly after it appeared on the footbridge over Fountain Boulevard at Shasta Drive on July 6.

In the early morning hours of July 6, community activists placed an art installation on the pedestrian bridge over Fountain Boulevard, near Shasta Drive. Durabe plastic tape woven between the chain-link fencing of the pedestrian bridge spelled out “BLM,” the common abbreviation for Black Lives Matter. 

Within hours, a truck from the Colorado Springs Quality of Life Team showed up and removed the tape. The team handles: “graffiti removal, vacant homeless camp clean-ups, warrant abatements on private property, litter/junk/unpermitted sign removal from rights-of-way, sidewalk snow shoveling, removal of abandoned shopping carts from rights-of-way, and weed cutting along rights-of-way adjacent to abandoned property,” according to Neighborhood Services Manager Mitchel Hammes.

“It’s interesting that they responded so quickly, getting that down on a bridge that they’ve never cared about,” said Jacqueline Armendariz. “They took that installation down in about three hours, maybe.”

Armendariz is part of the Colorado Springs Community Stakeholders Justice Coalition (CSJC), a new organization working to improve communication amongst the many activist groups in Colorado Springs. CSJC members Armendariz, Juelz Morse-Ramirez and Shaun Walls gathered July 9 at Monterey Park to discuss the removal of the installation.

“We all live in 80910,” Armendariz said. “We’ve seen the momentum around Black Lives Matter, obviously. What we have concern about is there hasn’t been a clearinghouse of information or communication and coordination. The coalition is a reporting mechanism. We didn’t make the installation, but people reported it to us.”

The members of the CSJC are familiar with graffiti in Southeast Colorado Springs. 

“Graffiti has been an issue my whole life,” said Morse-Ramirez, who grew up in Southeast Colorado Springs. “It usually has something to do with the gangs that are around here, which aren’t too relevant these days. We always see [street gang-affiliated graffiti]. 

“I remember one day it was on signs up here, on the fence over there, like in multiple locations and nobody responded to that as quickly as they did to this BLM installation on a bridge that is completely tagged up. … What was there before is still there, so they literally just went and took down the BLM and just ignored everything else that’s on that bridge. That whole bridge is just a mess.” 

On July 9, the bridge in question was still covered in graffiti, stickers and broken glass that the Quality of Life Team left behind. Hammes asserts that his team removes graffiti in a uniform manner.

“The Quality of Life Team removes all sorts of graffiti to include paint, signs, chalk, crayon, stickers and postings that are on public buildings and infrastructure,” he said. “The city responds to all graffiti as it is reported, regardless of content.”

Quick response to art installation raises questions of equity 2

Graffiti remains on the bridge and surrounding sidewalk in this July 9 image. 

Sticking around

Less than two miles west of the pedestrian bridge, at the intersection of Fountain and South Union boulevards, and further south on Union along the Highway 24 offramp, light poles, electrical boxes and the backs of street signs were festooned with Trump campaign bumper stickers, and had been for more than a week in July. The Trump stickers had also been spotted on public property around the Tejon Park-n-Ride underneath the I-25 overpass, and near Cheyenne Mountain Junior High School at the intersection of Cresta Road and Cheyenne Boulevard.

“The stickers were right by the junior high, and there were like three or four of them,” said London Lyle, a University of Colorado-Boulder student home for the summer. “I first noticed them a week ago.”

“I can assure you, any person doing this type of vandalism is not associated with our office,” said Vickie Tonkins, chair of the El Paso County GOP. “In fact, due to flooding at our office around the end of May, most of our bumper stickers were destroyed and we did not get new bumper stickers until June 20, 2020, and we gave out about 30, max. No true Republican would do this type of vandalism because our party respects everyone’s property, both private and public. I am sure you are aware that anyone can purchase bumper stickers and signs online.”

A question of equal treatment

The fact that Trump stickers were allowed to exist on public property for weeks while a Black Lives Matter art installation was quickly dismantled raises concerns from CSJC members. 

“Not only do they clean the graffiti up in the selective way they choose to do it,” Walls said, “they do that with policing as well. 

“Everywhere you turn around — look at the school [Monterey Elementary], look at the grass. They show you that you’re different than what you see everywhere else in the city. It’s purposeful and it needs to be addressed. The Black and brown community is centralized down here, and it always has been.”

“The Quality of Life Team responds proactively to graffiti observed, as well as via reports from the community,” said Hammes. However, CSJC members also have issues with how the city handles graffiti, usually just by painting over it with a neutral color.

“You can drive around and see how many spots have been tagged up,” Morse-Ramirez said, “and then it’s just painted some ... color that doesn’t even go with it. 

“Thanks for taking away the graffiti, but now we have this ridiculous-looking building that is all patched up.”

“An interesting question here too is ‘What is graffiti?’ Arguably that was an installation of free speech, so I would be interested in understanding the categorization behind that,” Armendariz said.

NOTE: This story has been updated to show the medium of the BLM installation was durable plastic tape, not yarn as originally reported. The Southeast Express apologizes for the error.