Part 1 'Conflict On Concrete:
Wenatchee, Washington -- 03/17/1999
Conflict on concrete: Skatepark center of concerns~
Tipping his board with his toes Tuesday afternoon
at the skatepark he calls home for a few hours each day,
Sean Clawson couldn't figure what the fuss is all about.
Skateboarders defacing the Pioneer Park facility with graffiti?
That's gang members, Clawson said.
Fights? Yes, he's seen some,
but those have mostly involved gang-bangers,too.
Weapons and drugs? Never spotted those at the park, he added.
"It's the people who don't skate here who are the ones doing it,"
said Clawson, a 16-year-old WestSide High School student who's
been coming to the skatepark almost every day for two years.
"Everyone who's tagging it doesn't skate here. They're probably
doing it at night when no one's around. No one here would let them do it."
But some officials beg to differ.
They say some skateboarders are physically and verbally assaulting
children and teen-agers. They say parents are afraid to allow their
children to visit Pioneer Park. They say the cost of removing graffiti
is becoming prohibitive.
"It's now become a neighborhood concern," said Allison Williams, the city's
neighborhood planner. "It's like a group of kids have taken ownership of it.
I got the distinct impression it was a group of rough kids. I'd hate to say
it's a gang because I didn't hear anyone specifically say that."
Officials are contemplating what to do next with the skatepark constructed in
1997. Skaters and their supporters raised about half of the $40,000 the city
used to build the structure.
Among the ideas tossed out so far by officials: Close the facility down;
fence it off and open it for only certain hours; have someone supervise it;
bring police in to crack down on wayward kids; or look the other way and
allow the whole skatepark to be painted with graffiti.
At Monday's City Commission meeting, a stack of photos was passed around
showing graffiti -- some of it gang markings -- inside the skatepark and
on park benches, signs and restrooms. Parks Director Chuck Largent said
the graffiti has to be sandblasted, a costly and futile job since spots
are sometimes retagged overnight.
Police Chief Ken Badgley said his department is willing to sit down and discuss
the matter with neighbors and park users as part of a "fact-finding" session.
He said there have been problems with kids congregating and graffiti.
But Clawson and a half-dozen other regular skateboarders interviewed
Tuesday afternoon believe such solutions would be a mistake and penalize
the wrong crowd.
"The stores, when they get tagged, people paint over it.
They don't put a fence around that," said Justin Williams, 11.
Clawson said putting a fence up wouldn't do much good anyway.
He believes gang members would just climb over it in the middle of the night.
He said a more effective solution might be installing surveillance cameras
and turning on more lights. Only one of the eight lights at the skatepark
is lit at night.
"It doesn't help. The bowl (part of the skatepark) and this corner here,
it's pitch dark," he said. "It'd be a lot easier to spot people."
He said it's sort of true the skatepark is ruled by the same boarders each day.
"Sometimes a bunch of dorks come around, get in the way,
are not smart about what they're doing, really cocky," he said.
Williams said BMX bikers are another problem.
He said skateboarders and bikers run into each other,
leading to conflicts. He quickly raced over to point
out a stenciled sign on the concrete that reads, "No bikes."
Kurt Thomas, 16, a Wenatchee High School student said he's seen
gang members fight in the park. He said they usually hang out near
a barbecue pit on the southeast corner, but sometimes walk by.
Picnic tables next to the facility are littered with gang graffiti,
some of it threatening skaters.
Some of the boarders said the city should look the other way
and allow the whole skatepark to be painted over with graffiti.
"I know a lot of people who like the graffiti
-- it looks cool and it's not just plain cement
-- as long as it's not gang-related," Thomas said.
"They should have some people come in and do the whole thing,
some real taggers," added Justin "Jay Bob" Dayton, 14.
Largent, who admits the graffiti problem in the city isn't confined
to just Pioneer Park, said some communities allow graffiti in skate
parks. But he said he'd be nervous about going that route.
"It seems almost like you're opening up a can of worms if you start it,"
Largent said. "If they don't like it, do they then do the swimming pool,
And neighbor Dave Watson, who lives on nearby Glenwood Street and won't
allow his daughter to frequent the place, believes the problem runs much
deeper than just graffiti. He said he's spotted people driving "low-riders"
park the cars, get out with no skateboard in hand and walk over to the facility.
He said he's seen people arrive with full backpacks and leave with empty ones.
"I've seen some older -- let's say post-teens -- mixing in," Watson said.
"I just haven't felt comfortable with what I've been observing down there.
It's an environment that lends itself to problems because there are no controls on it."
1. Open until 9 p.m. weekdays, 11 p.m. weekends
2. Use at your own risk
3. Safety helmets and equipment recommended
4. Weapons, alcohol and drugs prohibited
5. Park closed to those under 18 during school hours
6. Bicycles not allowed
7. Respect others and their rights
8. Foul or abusive language will not be tolerated
9. No glass containers allowed
What: Meeting on problems at Wenatchee Skatepark
When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Pioneer Middle School cafeteria
Information: City Parks Department, 664-3392
CC - By Stephen Maher, Wenatchee World staff writer.
Part 2 'Graffiti Is A Symptom:
Wenatchee, Washington - 03/18/1999
Don't underestimate the power of graffiti. It is more than an
exercise in bad taste or a sign of misdirected youthful exuberance.
It is not innocent, it is not art for self-expression.
It is more than a nuisance, more than simple vandalism.
It is a message and a symbol.
It is a threat and a reminder that the lawless can rule.
That is not overly dramatic. Graffiti is a symptom,
and the disease cannot be cured with a sandblaster.
It makes the situation at Pioneer Park serious enough that it can
not be ignored. The skateboard park there is a new graffiti magnet.
The problem is sudden.
The skatepark stayed relatively clean of graffiti until recently,
officials said. In the last 10 days the city has spent about $1,200
removing spray paint from the concrete. New graffiti appears almost daily.
Much of it is free-lance work, painted with some effort,
but much is the scribbled messages of gang "taggers,"
who mark the working territory of organized criminal brotherhoods.
Gang graffiti is not new in Wenatchee, as gangs are not new.
The city recently spent a good deal of time cleaning gang signs
off the Columbia River pipeline bridge, and not for the first time.
Gang graffiti is showing up, with increasing frequency some say,
in several parts of town, north and south.
Pioneer Park, where the skate park is located, is in a clean middle
class neighborhood, adjacent to a middle school and the city swimming
pool. The thought that it might be a gathering place for criminals
should be disturbing enough to provoke a response. Neighbors report
fights there. They say their children have been threatened.
Some people are afraid to let their children play there on their own.
The fears are not unreasonable. Remember the graffiti; it shows that
some time during the day the normal rules of society do not apply there.
The situation is more unfortunate because most of the young people
using the skate park follow the rules and are interested only in recreation.
The city Parks Department considers the skate park a significant success.
It supplies an outlet for teens who might otherwise be idle or who might
practice their sport in some other place where they may run into more trouble.
The city has set a meeting for today to discuss options, mainly with skate
boarders who use the park lawfully. A do-nothing option is not acceptable.
The city can't keep paying to erase graffiti, and the local residents want
a safe neighborhood, something the enforcers of the law owe them.
One suggestion is to ignore the graffiti and let the vandals have their way,
as a form of free expression. No idea could be worse. Giving in to mayhem is
no way to control the destruction of city property. Crime is not reduced by
Pioneer Park and the surrounding neighborhood will be more dangerous
and more subject to deterioration. Besides, the city has an ordinance
that requires private property owners to erase graffiti promptly.
That rule should apply to city property, too.
Another idea is to fence in the skate park, and hire a supervisor.
That would lessen the value of the park, because fewer people
would use it for its intended purpose. It probably wouldn't control
vandalism, because the skateboarders aren't the vandals. It also
would constitute another form of surrender to crime.
The ultimate solution is control the crime, which requires neighborhood
vigilance,additional interest by the police and less tolerance of threatening
behavior. The city has the right to choose whom it allows to hang out in its
parks. The only real alternative is to tear out the skate park, which would
be another sad surrender.
CC - By TRACY WARNER, Wenatchee World Editorial Page editor.
Part 3 'Boarders Speak Out:Trouble at skatepark is caused by gangs fights, graffiti
and drug dealing worry neighbors, parents, youngsters...
Wenatchee, Washington -- 03/19/1999
The skateboarders had heard it before, and they heard it again
Thursday evening: They're the ones behind the fights, graffiti,
indecent behavior, drug dealing, drinking, loud music and obscene
language at the Wenatchee Skatepark in Pioneer Park.
So when it came time for them to speak up at a meeting at Pioneer
Middle School on the skatepark's fate, they were blunt. Not only are
gangs responsible for many of the problems at nearby Pioneer Park,
where the skatepark is located, but the same is true elsewhere in
the city, they said. Some bemoaned the lack of youth activities in
Wenatchee, later characterizing the skatepark as a subculture haven.
"If you walk around Wenatchee, all the parks are like that,"
said skateboarder Devon Harris of vandalism and illicit activities.
"It's all of Wenatchee. We're focusing on the wrong problem."
Jessica Shirk, a 20-year skateboarder and mother, said she lives
near Methow Park and described it as the "nastiest" in the city.
She said gangs control the facility and she hears gunshots every
night, but city officials have done nothing to deal with the situation.
Shirk said she sympathizes with neighbors of Pioneer Park,
some of whom attended.
"But what you need to realize is with growth comes change," Shirk said.
"As this city grows, it's something you're going to have to deal with.
"The problem with Wenatchee is that the adults in this community have
very little respect for youth. The communication gap really needs to
be mended," she said. "Instead of saying those kids, those kids, those
kids, you need to take some responsibility and say I raised those kids,
I raised those kids."
Wenatchee Police Officer Keith Sorensen, who's assigned to schools,
said three gangs frequent Pioneer Park. He told the 80 people in the
cafeteria -- three-fourths were teens and young adults -- that gangs
took root in the city about the same time the skatepark opened in 1997.
He added graffiti taggings have spread to central and north Wenatchee
because of the opening of Foothills Middle School a few years ago.
Later, Police Capt. Rick Murray said gang activity decreased over the
winter months. He said authorities aren't sure who's been involved in
assaults at Pioneer Park.
"We don't know if there's drug dealing (as neighbors attest),"
he said. "It could very well be. It could very well not be."
Cathy Enlow, who has lived across from the park on Fuller Street for the past
20 years, said she and her family regularly spot gang behavior and drug deals.
But Enlow directed most of her criticism at skateboarders,
saying they drive erratically, play loud music, use foul language,
leave garbage and scare younger children.
When Mission Ridge closes for the season, snowboarders turn
to skateboards, creating more havoc at the facility, she said.
"The park has changed. The residents (who live near the park) haven't
changed. We want the park back to the way it used to be," Enlow said.
"I know it isn't all of you. But it's enough that you're all involved,
just by association."
Another neighbor, Dave Watson, suggested parents of skateboarders need to
start frequenting the park -- just as other families in the community oversee
and participate in their children's activities.
"If the parents are not involved, turn it into a fountain," Watson said.
But John Brett, a 1995 Eastmont High School graduate and Dartmouth
College student who is program coordinator at the Wenatchee Coffee House,
said not all parents can participate in their children's activities.
"I hope this doesn't break down into economic snobbery," said Brett,
who earlier had suggested the situation should be looked upon as an
opportunity to bring different segments of the community together.
Mary Kelly, a Wenatchee High School senior and student body officer,
said choices for teen-agers are limited: There are no dance clubs, the
bowling alley burned down last year and the Franklin House was torn down.
"There's nothing to do in this town. It's the biggest complaint," Kelly said.
"The people starting the fights, it isn't the skaters. The people starting
the fights have nothing to do. They don't have any interests. Their only
interests are in starting fights with skaters."
Ways to improve Pioneer Park and Wenatchee Skate Park
Ideas suggested at Thursday's meeting:
* Deal with gangs
* Replace burned-out lights and install night light
* Install pay phone
* Sponsor skateboard competitions
* Paint murals
* Allow graffiti art
* Have college students work with park youth
* More visits by police
* Skateboarders self-police the place
* Neighborhood block watch
* More meetings between officials and skateboarders
* Build an indoor park to ease overcrowding
CC - By Stephen Maher, Wenatchee World staff writer.