Danger signs?

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Sheriff’s office, special task force investigate rash of graffiti vandalism

By Cheri Harris

Carissa Jones lives out in the country. The Quincy resident has a few neighbors close by — a herd of cows among them. Other landmarks near her Flat Creek Road home include a silo and a time-weathered barn.


But the down-home charm in her neighborhood has been marred by what some might consider a strictly inner-city blight: crude gang-style graffiti covering most of her home’s privacy fence.

Jones said based on what her neighbor told her, the spray-paint-wielding vandal must put have the graffiti on her fence some time between 11 p.m. Dec. 14 and 8 a.m. Dec. 15. Jones said when she reported it to the sheriff’s office, she learned that something similar happened recently in Greensboro.

A number of road signs along Flat Creek Road have been defaced by gang-style symbols as well as some others in the Quincy area, including along Solomon Dairy Road.

According to Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young, Gadsden County has had gang activity in the past and investigators are working now on determining exactly what gangs or groups are behind the rash of graffiti vandalism — and what it means.

“We will make some arrests based on the graffiti that we’ve seen here recently,” Young said.

In addition to defacing Jones’ fence and area road signs, the vandals also hit a park next to Greensboro’s town hall.

Greensboro Town Manager Harold Emrich said the park was defaced two or three times in mid-December by graffiti vandals.

“We like the park to be nice and attractive to residents,” Emrich said, “and that’s very unappealing.”

He said the vandals used red, blue and black paint.

“When that happens, I like to perform the maintenance to relieve us of that because I’m of the train of thought that the longer it’s left, the more it encourages that type of behavior so we’re quick to repair and maintain,” Emrich said. “However, we had to do it on repeated occasions.”

He said the labor and paint to fix the damage has cost the town between $750 and $1,000.

At Daniel’s Auto Services nearby, Rosario Lugo said the shop his father, Daniel, owns was recently hit twice by graffiti vandals.

“It bothered my dad because they painted one of his trucks,” Rosario said.

The sheriff’s office has a task force devoted to monitoring area gang activity. Young said the 15-member group includes representatives from the sheriff’s office, Quincy Police Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Tallahassee Police Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Looking at photos of the graffiti damage to Jones’ fence, QPD Capt. Robert Mixson, a leader of the gang task force, said the symbols seem to represent Northside 14, a predominantly Hispanic gang originating in California. He said members can be recruited as part of a family tradition, for protection, or because being in a gang is often glorified on TV, music videos and videogames.

Mixson said Northside gang members have been identified with red articles of clothing such as red bandanas. A rival gang, Southside 13, has been identified with blue. Gang-symbol graffiti is a way for the rival groups to mark their territory, Mixson said.

Mixson said gangs have been tied to drugs, burglaries, prostitution and human trafficking. He said the groups also change their methods and clothing frequently to avoid getting caught, using tactics similar to terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.

“It’s street terrorism is what it is,” Mixson said.

Young said new members, including juveniles, are often required to commit a crime in order to be initiated into a gang. He said these crimes can include fighting another gang member or burglarizing a home, stealing drugs, jewelry or money.

If a parent is worried about a son or daughter involved in gang activity, Young recommended paying attention if suddenly the child wears predominantly one color, monitoring who the child spends time with and searching the child’s room for weapons or signs of other illegal activity. 

But many times, the reality of gang involvement is undeniable when a child comes home injured from a fight. Young said these fights are often captured on cell phone video. Young urged parents who suspect gang involvement to contact the sheriff’s office and request intervention.

Young also urged residents who see youths walking around with paint cans and not doing something productive with them, such as painting lawn furniture, to contact the sheriff’s office.

“If they’re not doing something useful,” Young said, “they’re using it for graffiti.”

Times Executive Editor Cheri Harris can be reached at 850-627-7649 or editor@gadcotimes.com.