In recent months, Seattle has been hit by a barrage of ugly graffiti, from Ballard to Sodo, from Capitol Hill to the waterfront and in business areas all over town. Our city looks as beleaguered as a drunken sailor decorated by a tattoo artist with broken fingers, bad eyesight and no talent.

Graffiti is not a major crime, but it is the most visible crime. When it spreads unchecked, it is a clear symptom of urban decay and bad governance. The business closures caused by COVID-19 restrictions have certainly contributed to the problem; those blocks of boarded up windows offer a tempting target for taggers. But it does not help that city resources to stamp out graffiti have been allowed to dwindle. In particular, the sharp reduction in the police budget has left Seattle with too few cops to handle even major crimes, let alone chase after teenagers with spray cans.

As office workers return downtown in the months to come – and thousands of them will, since Amazon has announced most home-based work will end soon – in-city shops and restaurants will be taking down those graffiti-covered sheets of plywood that have covered building facades. That will help eliminate at least some of the problem, but city government will need to find a way to clean up the pervasive mess all over town. The Emerald City desperately needs a facelift.

Perhaps there are members of the city council who do not think graffiti is offensive. Maybe stifling the crude artistry of young taggers is a task that feels too censorious and adult for them. If that is the case, maybe they should offer up the walls of their own houses as canvases for the kids with the spray paint.

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