Rampant Serial Vandal Defaces Beloved Castro HIV/AIDS Mural

Rampant Serial Vandal Defaces Beloved Castro HIV/AIDS Mural
Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline
By Shane Downing - Published on March 10, 2017.

On Wednesday night, a serial vandal tagged The Hope For A World Cure mural on 16th Street in the Castro. 

For months, neighbors have seen dozens of graffiti tags promoting the vandal's website scrawled across the Castro, the Haight, Cole Valley, Duboce Triangle, and the Inner Sunset.

Nearly two months after we published an article about the serial vandalism and alerted the authorities, Hoodline still regularly receives tips about the graffiti from residents, who are frustrated at the city's lack of response.

Many in the community are particularly stunned by this latest act of vandalism, which defaced the much-loved 1998 mural that details the community’s struggle with the AIDS epidemic.

"I was both angry and saddened by the disrespect to our community landmark," said neighbor Kathy Amendola of Cruisin’ The Castro Walking Tours, who saw the tag this morning while she was walking to give a tour.

Artists working on the mural in 1998. | Photo: Precita Eyes Muralists

Ever since we first wrote about the serial graffiti vandal in January, tipsters and commenters have sent us information indicating that they have identified the culprit. 

We sent their screenshots and social media links of the alleged suspect to SFPD months ago, but did not receive a response. 

When we got in touch again last week, SFPD public information officer Grace Gatpandan told us that she’s “in contact with the different district stations” about the serial graffiti. However, she declined to discuss this most recent tag, how the department is proceeding with its investigation, and if any suspects have been identified.

The vandal's tags have been spotted around the Castro, including on the former Books Inc. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline

Rachel Gordon, of SF Public Works, told us she only became aware of the vandalism ten days ago, when we emailed her to ask what was being done to quell the graffiti.

“Our graffiti team works closely with SFPD,” Gordon wrote to us in an email. “For example, we will document graffiti tags and provide the info to SFPD.”

But while Public Works removes graffiti from city infrastructure, and from the sidewalks in front of city property, private property owners are responsible for the upkeep of their own spaces, including sidewalks, garage doors, fences, and walls.

'The Hope For the World Cure,' before it was tagged. | Photo: Shane Downing/Hoodline

Precita Eyes Muralists, which is behind the Hope For A World Cure mural, says it will work to restore the piece of community art. (As of this morning, barricades have returned to block off the area.)

“We can definitely clean the graffiti off the mural,” Susan Cervantes, Precita Eyes' executive director, told us. “I will see if any of our restorers are available to take care of it before it gets worse.”

Cervantes said she was upset by the vandalism.

“Unfortunately, there are people in the neighborhood who do not respect the LGBT community,” Cervantes said. “They have a social problem that needs attention, so they can understand the pain and suffering they are causing themselves and the community.”

Another view of the tagged mural. | Photo: Shane Downing/Hoodline

Daniel Bergerac, president of the Castro Merchants, took it a step further.

“This is just disgusting,” said Bergerac. “Until the City Attorney gets serious and starts to go after guerrilla marketing of all types, this vandalism will continue.”

We contacted the City Attorney’s Office about the issue, but were referred to the District Attorney's Office, which "handles criminal matters." John Coté, who represents the City Attorney's office, says that monetary civil penalties could also potentially be sought in a graffiti case, if the perpetrator is known. 

We'll continue to follow this story.

If you see graffiti on public or private property around the neighborhood, Public Works asks that you report it to 311. The department also runs a Graffiti Watch volunteer program, in which neighbors can help remove graffiti. 

If you see anyone performing an act of vandalism in our neighborhood, do your best to capture a video or picture of the culprit to send to the authorities.