Corporate citizens slow to notice gang graffiti

One of the things I've learned from doing several stories on gangs is these groups use graffiti to mark their territory.

That's why I became concerned when I saw a black pitchfork painted on the front of a switchbox near the area of south Richmond County where I live.

The steel box, attached to an electrical pole, was on Willis Foreman Road near the intersection of Windsor Spring Road.

I know from research that getting this graffiti removed as soon as possible is important, to let the gangs know that residents won't tolerate this nonsense. What I didn't know was that getting something done about it in a timely fashion isn't always easy.

Boxes such as the one marked by the pitchfork are favorite places for gangs to paint graffiti, as are traffic signs, walls, trash bins and the back of buildings. One side of the box had gang symbols and the other side had the numbers 7 and 4, which correspond to the alphabets G and D -- representing Gangster Disciples, an alliance of Folk Nation. The pitchfork is also a symbol used by Folk.

On a road sign nearby was what looked like gang graffiti, and on another switchbox along Willis Foreman was the word "FOLK" painted in black.

My first instinct was to paint over them myself, but I decided that wouldn't be prudent. I decided to call the parties who owned the defaced property. My first call on March 23 was to the county roads department, where I reported the graffiti to Julie Livingstone. She said she would have a roads supervisor drive out there and take a look at it. I asked her about the control boxes, and she said they were the property of the power company.

In my area of the county that power company is Jefferson Energy Cooperative. I called them as soon as I got off the phone with Livingstone and spoke to a customer service rep named Yolanda, who was very nice and said she would forward my concerns to the appropriate parties. I asked her to have someone call me back to say when it would be handled, and she said she would.

To the county's credit, it removed the part of the sign that had the graffiti on it within a couple days of my call. Not so for Jefferson Energy, from whom I never heard back.

I called Yolanda again on March 31, asked if she remembered me, which she did, and told her that the graffiti had not been removed from the boxes.

She put me on hold for a couple of minutes to check and said she didn't know why it hadn't been taken care of, admitting that she hadn't followed up on it. She explained that it sometimes takes awhile and a determination has to be made on whether to repaint or paint over. Before we hung up, she said, "You stay on top of me (about the graffiti), and I'll stay on top of you."

By this time, the Masters Tournament was coming up and my attention and that of the newspaper was fully focused on it. I continued to see the graffiti on the boxes when I drove by but didn't have time to deal with the situation.

A week ago, about a month-and-a-half after I first reported the graffiti to Jefferson, I called Yolanda back to tell her again that nothing had been done. She checked a service order she placed on March 31 and said that a technician checked on it April 22 and determined that the boxes belonged to Comcast and AT&T.

Things started getting a little crazy from that point. I asked her if Jefferson had reported the graffiti to those companies, and she told me probably not. This bothered me, because I felt that as a corporate citizen of the community, Jefferson should have alerted Comcast and AT&T to the graffiti -- similar to what I had done. I asked Yolanda to let me speak to a manager, and she transferred me to a Miss Jones. I told her that initially I called as a concerned citizen but was now addressing the situation as a reporter for The Augusta Chronicle .

After I told her the entire story, we began a conversation in which neither of us seemed to be speaking the same language. She asked me whether the graffiti was on the boxes or the poles. I told her the markings were on the boxes, which I made clear when I first called in.

"If the graffiti is on the junction boxes and they are not ours, there is nothing we can do," she said. "Unfortunately we would not contact AT&T and Comcast to let them know. Whoever is in that area, you know just like you, you were in the area, had a concern about it and you did the right thing. ..."

Cutting her off, my response was: "I'm going to call AT&T and also Comcast to report it, but Jefferson Energy is a corporate citizen of the community and as a corporate citizen my question is: Isn't it incumbent upon you if you see that there is graffiti there to report it to whomever is responsible for that particular equipment? As a corporate citizen, isn't it your duty to make that report?"

Her reply: "Well, not necessarily. You can look at it the way you choose to look at it, but unfortunately we can't call or take care of everything that we may go by because we have so many things and aspects of different things we have to cover for our consumers and so many other things that trickle down. I mean, I see what you're saying, and just like you're saying you want it removed and that's great, but unfortunately as a company we can't accommodate everybody because we have other things we have to do in our spectrum to keep our customers up and running and keep our costs down and so forth. We have a lot on our plate, so to speak."

Then we got into a discussion about who owns the poles, which I won't bore you with. At the end of this, I asked for her supervisor and she transferred me to the voice mail of her boss, who wasn't at work that day.

I then called Comcast, and after about five minutes of maneuvering through its options menu, I got the marketing director, Kristina Baggott, who said she would get in touch with the technical team and they would check the boxes out.

I left for an appointment and when I returned a couple hours later, I had two voice mails. One was from Jones, who wouldn't give me her first name, and the other from Baggott. I also had received an e-mail from Baggott, who sent pictures of one of the boxes and a message that said it wasn't one of theirs and belonged to Jefferson Energy.

I called Jones, and she said that she'd sent a technician back out to Willis Foreman after our phone call and confirmed that the box and the pole did belong to Jefferson. She said that a previous tech might have gone to the wrong location and that they would send a crew to take care of it the next day. I told her that there was another box they needed to address and I gave her my cell number, asking her to have the crew contact me so I could meet them to show them the exact location.

By the time one of the technicians had called me Wednesday afternoon, they had painted over the graffiti on one box and were preparing to do the same for the other. One of the men told me they had discovered some graffiti on some sort of switchbox near a railroad crossing that belonged to Norfolk Southern.

I confirmed the graffiti Thursday morning and called Norfolk Southern. A representative named Allen took the info and said someone should take care of it in a couple of days.

Norfolk, you are now on the clock.

(Note: If you are having trouble getting gang graffiti removed, e-mail me at mike.wynn@augustachronicle.com.)

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