By Caroline Cummings

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Marvin Applewhite is a man on a mission: to scrub the graffiti dotting the streets of Uptown and make it a more beautiful place to live, work and enjoy.

“I wanted to give Uptown a facelift and just wanted to get rid of some of negative graffiti and trash around here,” said Applewhite, who is the owner of Blueline Cleaning and Debris Removal. “When you walk down the block with a gang of [sic] graffiti—your ideas change about the block. It don’t feel as safe.”

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He’s getting teen volunteers onboard to give them a productive way to get involved in the community, raising money through a GoFundMe to do it. He had a similar online fundraiser to clean up after the civil unrest following George Floyd’s death last summer.

This comes after reports that graffiti in Minneapolis has more than doubled from last year. Officials say they are working to remove it based on those reports detailing where there is spray paint on public buildings and spaces, but it’s costly.

Applewhite’s most recent project Saturday was power washing a sheet of red paint covering part of the intersection at West Lake Street and Girard Avenue, the short block just outside of the parking garage where a federal task force shot and killed Winston Smith, a Black man, last week.

Protestors have been demanding more answers from state investigators who say there is no body-camera or dash camera evidence documenting the events leading up to the shooting. Smith’s funeral was also Saturday.

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The paint came with the message “blood on their hands,” according to photos. Applewhite says he assembled a small team to quickly remove it Friday, hoping to brighten the pavement with something inviting: a rainbow.

“I didn’t know how it was going to look, but when it got done, it looked beautiful,” he said. “I’m just out here trying to make it look welcoming.”

But almost as soon as they painted over it, bright red cloaked the block once again with the words “Stop the Cover.” Applewhite was back in Uptown power washing the concrete yet again, less than 24 hours after the rainbow tinted the street.

“It was just something to make it colorful – it wasn’t to take away from the killing,” he said, acknowledging Smith’s death. “I ain’t against it but I feel like it’s in the wrong spot. It just so happened that he was killed up there. Uptown is not responsible for the killing,” he continued.

Applewhite said the property manager that owns that part of the street asked him to stop cleaning it Saturday afternoon to allow people to access the parking garage. WCCO reached out to the company for comment about future plans for removing the paint but has not heard back.

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A spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department did not say whether or not it had received any reports of paint or graffiti in that spot.

Caroline Cummings