Corvallis Hate Graffiti Increases, City is Responding

In the form of spray paint, stencils, and hand paint, swastikas and hate speech are being inscribed on various surfaces throughout Corvallis — alleyways, sidewalks, fire hydrants, light poles, utility boxes, you name it.   

In response, and depending on their size, some community members have taken it upon themselves to adopt a short-term solution: immediately covering up the hate graffiti with stickers — some that have bright, playful colors and fun graphics, others that are more nondescript.   

But most have yet to be covered, removed, or altered, and the person or people behind them seem adamant about keeping them cropping up for all to see.  

Sightings Increase 

On a utility box located near the Bi-Mart over at the Sunset Shopping Center, scrawled against a backdrop of black paint were the words, “Better Dead than RED”; below were two small white swastikas. Behind the shopping center, a red swastika was spotted near a sidewalk on Southwest Technology Loop. Another red swastika was found stenciled on an alley wall behind the Heartland Thrift Shop downtown. At the intersection of NW 10th Street and NW Grant Avenue, another red swastika was found stenciled onto the white line dividing the bike lane from the traffic lane.  

One common surface being used to spread hate graffiti appears to be fire hydrants; a yellow swastika was spotted on a hydrant near Sunset Dental. A red swastika was found on a hydrant near Central Park on the corner of 8th and Monroe. Michael Moses, a longtime Corvallis resident and OSU oceanographic research alum, noticed that someone had painted the words “Kill Your Kids” on a fire hydrant across from Lilly Park in South Corvallis.   

“We visit Lilly Park frequently with our kids, so [we] easily noted its appearance,” he said. “It seems there has been a recent spate of fire hydrant graffiti around the city, presumably by the same person [or] people.”   

Moses also said he noticed last week that someone had spray painted a small red swastika on a light pole located downtown on the corner of SW 3rd and Jefferson — the hate symbol has since been partially concealed by a sticker, though it isn’t big enough to cover the paint entirely.   

“I often see people talking about the diversity of Corvallis, and have even seen people commenting on the Corvallis Advocate [Facebook] page about how ‘doubtful’ they are of any racism [or hate] happening around here,” said one community member, who has requested to remain anonymous. “But people need to take these things seriously, and protecting and defending our neighbors even through small actions like actively covering these [symbols] up when we see them is a good first step.”  

Responses From the City  

An uptick in reports of these sightings have been received by the Corvallis Parks and Recreation and Corvallis Public Works departments.   

“We’ve gotten some reports of ones in parks, and we’ve gone out to remove those and report them back to the police,” said Jude Geist, the Parks Division Manager. “But most of the ones that get reported are actually coming in from the police.”   

Captain Joel Goodwin of the Corvallis Police Department said, “The oldest [report] that we have is from the end of July, so it doesn’t look like this is a brand new thing. It looks like whoever’s been doing this has been at it for just a little while.”   

Given that these have been sighted all over town, Goodwin said it doesn’t appear that any one location is being specifically targeted. CPD also considers it pure speculation at this point as to whether there’s a connection between the swastikas or Red Scare speech and phrases like “Kill Your Kids” or “Antifa Scum” — the latter of which had been scrawled over one of the #DefundLine3 yard signs created and distributed by local climate activist Patti Warner  

“Something like the swastika emblem that’s been spray painted seems a little more tangible, that it’s likely the same person because it’s a similar design,” said Goodwin. “But in order to tie them all together, we would need a little more concrete evidence that they’re related, rather than just two [or more] separate people being grossly inappropriate.”   

CPD is currently keeping track of these sightings, though an investigation isn’t pending. 

According to the department’s media log, a total of three hate-graffiti-related logs were filed on Wednesday, Sept. 8; the first incident occurred at 11:00 a.m., when employees at Block 15 Brewing Supply found red swastikas and the phrase “Kill A Commie Today” on the back of the building, “as well as other symbols of unknown meaning.” The log, which cites the case as discontinued, concludes, “There have been multiple reports of spray painted swastikas around the city in the past week. There is no suspect information at this time.” At around 3:00 p.m., the same officer, Michelle Tracy, responded to a report of several small red swastikas having been painted on a power box located near the entrance of Little Fields Park; Tracy took photos of the graffiti and notified both Corvallis Public Works and Corvallis Parks and Recreation.   

Around 4:15 p.m. that day, an employee at Oregon Coffee & Tea noticed a small red swastika on a light pole located to the east of the business’ entrance on NW Monroe Avenue. According to the log, the officer, Eric McMullin, alerted Corvallis Public Works, who said they would need to contact the light company to fix the pole. McMullin found several more red swastikas in the alleyway behind Squirrel’s Tavern; five had been painted on a blue Republic Services dumpster, and two had been painted on a small steel pole. Each appeared to have been marked on stickers — some political stickers.  

The most recent logs were filed on Saturday, Sept. 11. At 11:40 a.m., Officer Anna Natalizio responded to a report of a yellow swastika that had been spray painted on an orange fire hydrant near the southwest corner of NW 5th Street and NW Tyler Avenue; Natalizio took photos of the and notified Public Works. At approximately 2:30 p.m., Natalizio was dispatched to the area of SW 53rd Street and SW Technology Drive, where she observed red swastikas spray painted onto three different utility boxes: “one located near the southeast corner of SW 53rd Street and SW Meridian Place, another near the northeast corner of SW 53rd Street and SW Technology Loop, and a third on the south side of SW Technology Loop just west of SW 49th Street.” The graffiti was again photographed and reported to Public Works.   

Each log filed by CPD in response to reports of these sightings concludes, “Due to the lack of suspect information and investigative leads, this case was discontinued.”  

“We do try to keep track when we find the same type of graffiti over and over again,” said Geist. “That way if [police] are able to catch somebody, maybe they can link it back to past incidents.”   

Approximately two weeks ago, Geist said Corvallis Parks and Rec had received reports of large red swastikas hand-painted on rocks at Crystal Lake Sports Fields, near the boat ramp, facing the Willamette River. Since removing them, staff have noticed that someone has been stenciling red and yellow swastikas on other surfaces, including the inside of the porta-potty at Central Park, which has also been removed.   

“If it’s on park property, my preference is that people call Parks and Operations — report it in so we can go out there and do a really good removal [or] cover it up with paint if that’s needed, rather than just covering it up with stickers,” said Geist. “If we saw a sticker in a park situation, we wouldn’t necessarily assume that it’s covering something up… So if [people] are covering up swastikas with stickers, we may not notice. If we did find it, what we would likely do is remove that sticker and try to fully remove the paint.”  

Ideally, Geist said, if somebody was to immediately call in to report a sighting during business hours, they might be able to send someone to remove or paint over the graffiti as soon as possible.  

Rabbi Phil Bressler of the Beit Am Synagogue harbors a slightly different opinion.   

Bressler said the local Jewish community hasn’t been especially impacted, as “a constant awareness of the existence of antisemitism and antisemites is part of living as a Jew in America.” He added that while he doesn’t know how to convince anyone to stop hating the Jewish community, he believes that the most effective response to hate speech and vandalism is to ensure that they remain ostracized, as some community members have been doing themselves.   

“Immediately covering up or defacing hate symbols sends the important message that such retrograde ideology will not be tolerated in our community,” said Bressler.  

Reporting Options  

People who find any more of these graffiti in Corvallis have the option of reporting them to Parks and Rec or Public Works for removal.  

“The thing that’s good for people to know,” said Geist, “is even if they called Parks and Rec, and let’s say it ends up being about a swastika painted on a bike path that’s maintained by Public Works, we will be able to get that to the right entity to clean it up.”   

If Public Works isn’t available in such a scenario, Geist said, Parks and Rec staff will help them out by conducting the removal, and vice-versa.   

“Sometimes people hesitate to call because they don’t know who to call,” said Geist. “If you call the wrong department, it should get directed to the right people.”  

Online reporting tools are also available on the Corvallis Parks and Recreation website and the Corvallis Public Works website. When locations of the graffiti are provided, reports will be routed to the appropriate agency.   

Patrick Rollens, Corvallis’ Public Information Officer, said that another option is to report any related information through the Oregon Department of Justice  

A Call to Artists  

As for more community-based cover-up tactics, artists around the world have transformed swastika graffiti and hateful writings into quirky works of art and colorful murals. What’s to stop creative endeavors such as these from being replicated in Corvallis? Surely, the increasing amount of hate graffiti and their widening dissemination around town offer a variety of canvases for community members to work with.  

“I’ve lived in Corvallis for 14 years and never seen something like this and so widespread,” said Moses. “Clearly, someone wants their presence known to intimidate the community, and it’s certainly not appreciated.”  

By Emilie Ratcliff