When it comes to how much publicity racist graffiti should get, there’s a stark difference of opinion between anti-racism advocates and the City of Burnaby’s anti-graffiti coordinator.
On Saturday, a Burnaby NOW reader found three parking signs at Burnaby Mountain Park defaced with at anti-Asian racial slur.
Within an hour of them submitting an online complaint, the offensive scrawl had been removed by the city.
But the reader said they were “perturbed” about comments from City of Burnaby anti-graffiti coordinator Todd Polich in a followup email.
The reader had asked Polich whether his department reported such racist graffiti to the RCMP.
Polich responded by saying the city flags racist content but doesn’t generally report such graffiti to police “unless it is something that is determined to be ongoing or with malicious intention beyond minor graffiti.”
“With my holding records of incidents such as this, I can accumulate data on repeat offences and present this to the RCMP as a more serious case which they will assign resources to,” Polich wrote. “Oftentimes graffiti such as this is committed by individuals who are just trying to agitate, and it is done sporadically without too much thought or pre-intention behind it.”
Polich then added a comment about contacting the media about graffiti.
“We never encourage any instances of graffiti, be it racial or not, to be raised in the media or in the public eye (social media, etc.), as this encourages and incites more of this type of graffiti, vandalism and attention-seeking behavior,” he wrote.
But that approach seems backwards to anti-racism advocates.
“No, this is not what we need happening. We need to be talking about what’s going on in our society … You can’t fix it if you can’t see it,” said Jane Hurtig, program manager for Resilience B.C., an anti-racism network launched in 2019 to help communities respond to incidents of racism and hate.
Hurtig said police should also be made aware of complaints of racist graffiti, regardless of whether they seem minor.
“These small incidents that to me, a white woman, may seem like a small incident, to somebody who is the victim of this racial slur, that can be a very traumatic thing,” she said. “To have it in your own neighbourhood and to be faced with it, it makes you feel unsafe in your own neighbourhood.”
Polich told the NOW the city takes racist graffiti “very, very seriously” as evidenced by how quickly it’s taken down after being reported.
“It was removed lightning fast,” he said of the Burnaby Mountain Park graffiti.
The incident was not reported to RCMP, according to Polich, but he said his department tracks such incidents and is thorough about taking photos and collecting any evidence from the scene, which can then be turned over to police.
“It’s a judgment call as to whether it is something that is just thrown up very, very quickly and someone who’s just attention-grabbing or if there’s some serious malicious intent behind it,” he said.
When asked what that judgment call is based on, Polich said, “I don’t know if I want to continue commenting on that. I think I’m just going to leave it at that.”