Vandals strike: Popular public art piece hit by ‘tagging’

Vandals spray-painted tags on two of Josue Ramirez's murals pictured Sunday on at East 9th and East Adams Street .(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

An uplifting example of public art in downtown Brownsville has been defaced by spray-painting vandals, while other properties around downtown and Palm Boulevard have been targeted in recent weeks as well.

Perhaps a week and a half ago, the colorful “Bloom Where You Are Planted” mural at East 9th and East Adams street was “tagged” by clumsy black lettering defined by city ordinance as graffiti.

Mayor Trey Mendez, who posted a photo of the damaged mural on his Facebook page, said he’s observed an uptick in unauthorized spray painting over the last month, and encouraged residents to report such activity to the Brownsville Police Department.

“That’s the one that stuck out for me because I drive by it every day,” Mendez said. “That was really my favorite. I just thought it kind of personified downtown. … It’s just straight up vandalism. I’m really disappointed that somebody would do that and deface public art, and a really good example of public art at that.”

Mendez said he hopes residents will step forward to help police catch and punish perpetrators since this kind of destructive activity goes against the city’s priority of beautification.

“Not only does that give us a sense of community and pride of where we are and where we live, but it’s how your city looks,” he said. That’s important.”

Melissa Gonzalez, public information officer for the Brownsville Police Department, said property owners whose property has been vandalized should file an official police report or have a representative do so.

“Ultimately they’re going to be the ones to determine, if they wish to proceed with filing charges,” she said.

Gonzalez also encouraged residents to call the police if they witness acts of vandalism in progress.

“Give us a call and report it, and we’ll investigate it from there, and we’ll try to contact the owner,” she said.

Penalties for unauthorized graffiti range from a Class C misdemeanor for damages less than $100 up to a felony — incurring fines and jail time — if the damage is substantial enough, Gonzalez said. Residents who report the identity of taggers anonymously to Brownsville CrimeStoppers, a non-law-enforcement organization that reports to BPD and other enforcement agencies, may be eligible for a reward if the report leads to an arrest, she said.

Curbing unauthorized tagging requires a partnership between residents and the police, she said.

“If it doesn’t look right, just call it in,” Gonzalez said. “Call the police.”

“Bloom Where You Are Planted” was painted by Bayview resident Josue Ramirez, whose other works include the floral mural on the 7th & Park building and the giant Topo Chico bottle on the Belden West Trail at West Elizabeth Street.

He said public murals are often at risk for vandalism, as has been the case repeatedly with public art on the old Capitol Theater downtown.

“It’s unfortunate,” Ramirez said. “You know the name of the game, but it seems like people had really appreciated the piece and it had been there for a bit.”

He painted “Bloom” in 2013, around the corner from his whimsical interpretations of Mickey Mouse.

“I know that it’s probably teenagers,” Ramirez said. “They probably didn’t do it with the intention of being artistic. For that, I really honestly don’t have much to say other than don’t get caught.”

Some young people pick up a spray can to create “significant artistic interventions in public spaces,” he said. An unwritten rule among real graffiti artists says that if you can’t do better than somebody else’s work, then leave it alone, Ramirez said. If he thought the “Bloom” tagger had any artistic impulse at all, he’d offer him lessons, Ramirez said.

He said enough people seemed to like “Bloom” that he’s thinking about starting a GoFundMe or Kickstarter campaign to pay for paint to restore the mural. Ramirez said he also plans to thank Mendez for his support and also wants to have a conversation with the mayor about support for public art in general.

While Brownsville leads Rio Grande Valley cities in terms of public mural programs, “we could go so much further,” Ramirez said. Pharr, for instance, has designated graffiti walls in public parks where young people can hone their skills, he noted.

“It would be really great if there were public spaces in Brownsville where people could engage in that art form without getting in trouble,” Ramirez said.

Police urge anyone with information on the vandalism to contact Brownsville Crime Stoppers at (956) 546-8477 or brownsvillecrimestoppers.com or Brownsville Police Department at (956) 548-7000 or www.brownsvillepd.com.

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com