October 26, 2021

Group paints over graffiti in Cortland

Trying to erase hatred

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

From back: Henry Barrows, Mikaila Scheppmann and Nick Wilson paint over graffiti Saturday on the Priority Fire Apparatus LLC building in Cortland.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect more detail about the nature of the graffiti

It was about two weeks ago that Douglas Withey, the owner of Cortland’s W2O Operator Training Group, LLC noticed the graffiti alongside the neighboring business, Priority Fire Apparatus LLC.

The graffiti, which featured expletives toward police and what could be interpreted as either a potentially anti-Semitic image or a rendition of a gang symbol, had to go. Four volunteers worked Saturday to paint over the graffiti.

“It’s time to bring unity to our community, so it’s one small start,” Withey said.

Nick Wilson and his fiancee Mikaila Scheppmann, who are tenants of a nearby residence Withey owns, said Withey contacted them to ask if they would be able to get a group together and help paint over the graffiti, Wilson said. Wilson did, and got two more volunteers to show up Saturday.

Wilson said that the graffiti about the police might have come recently after the city’s June 1 Black Lives Matter protest. Withey added that while he noticed the graffiti after the protests, he had no evidence that it was otherwise connected. One of the images resembled a popular sign for the Crips street gang.

“I think people that are spray-painting that kind of stuff have the wrong idea” about what Black Lives Matter stands for, Wilson said.

There have been half a dozen reports of graffiti across the city in the past two weeks, Lt. David Guerrera of the Cortland Police Department said.

This includes ALM, which Guerrera said is believed to stand for All Lives Matter — the counter to Black Lives Matter — which was discovered spray-painted June 2 on the city’s Unitarian Universalist Church’s sign, two sidewalks, a street sign and the Cortland Youth Bureau.

While Guerrera did not have any reports on the graffiti that was cleaned up on Saturday, he did say that “If we can identify who did it, we will arrest them.”

Erika Albro of Auburn, who attended the Black Lives Matter protest, said she was helping to remove the graffiti as it went against the messages she was spreading at the protest.

“I want to take away any negative from the protest,” she said. “That’s not what we were there for.”

Withey, who was granted permission from the building’s owner to have the graffiti painted over, said he might want to put a train-themed mural over the paint as the wall of the building is right next to train tracks.