Nobody knows yet why The Pop Shop was vandalized Monday morning, or by whom.
Most importantly, the whole thing washed off with bleach, according to Pop Shop co-owner Connie Correia Fisher, and nobody was harmed in the process.
Collingswood Police are calling it an isolated incident, and did not offer any interpretation of the artwork left behind—a face with X's for eyes and a horizontal line for a mouth set against the letters "CMD" and "NIG" in gold and grey.
Collingswood Patch asked several likely sources if they knew what to make of the graffiti left behind in the incident: tattoo artists, law enforcement agents, people with first-hand gang encounters. All but one of them offered opinions exclusively on condition of anonymity.
One detail, however, is consistent across every third-party interpretations of the incident: its association with the nearby city of Camden.
'You can see it on anything'
A phone call to the Camden Police Department yielded this tip from one law enforcement source, who declined to give a name.
“CMD” is short-hand for “Camden,” but is also sometimes an acronym for “Cash Murder Drugs," the source explained.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s been our experience that people who live in the city associate themselves with that [shorthand]."
At the Oaklyn Police Department, which recently investigated graffiti at multiple locations throughout the borough, a brief inquiry met with some head-scratching. Answers were no more easily forthcoming from artists across the street at Empire Tattoo.
In the shop was Somerdale resident Matt Hender, who said he was told “CMD” stands for “Camden’s Most Dangerous”—a guess also made by a Patch user Tuesday who claims to have taught in the city— and that it used to be a common sight in his hometown of Gloucester City.
“You can see it on mailboxes; you can see it on anything,” Hender said. “I’ve seen it written on the backs of seats in school.”
Another source close to Camden City law enforcement confirmed that “CMD” is a commonly seen tag in the city, but downplayed its connection with gang culture. No mention is made of the marker in the Gang Awareness Guide published by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office (see above).
'Who's using this and why?'
Patch also consulted with a graphic artist who studies tattoo culture—who also declined to be identified for this story—for some perspective on possible motivations behind the act.
This artist lived for 10 years in Los Angeles, CA, “on a block that was home to a lot of gang members."
In that environment, the artist soon discovered that there were levels of meaning behind the colorful, exotic, and sometimes inscrutable artwork.
“That’s when I first started being exposed to a lot of this stuff, encrypted messaged on walls: 'this is where you cop your dope’, or ‘this is where so-and-so died,’ or ‘this is [someone’s] territory’," the artist told Patch.
All those interpretations are highly unlikely scenarios in this instance, the artist said. It’s far easier to assume that targeting “a large, very well known façade that’s smack-dab in the center [of town]” is simply a ploy for attention.
“Chances are you’d be seen or discovered; maybe they’re coopting this acronym and symbol as something of their own and trying to say ‘Check out our gang.’”
And if getting caught is a possible motive for the crime—or gaining recognition for vandalizing a popular downtown attraction—then who would do it?
“That for me would be the issue,” the source said. “Who’s really using this and why, and if other people see this, what does it invite?”
Almost everyone who offered comment for this story dismissed the act as a childish prank, more the work of hooligans than gang-bangers. None had any real sense of danger arising from it, save the nuisance of additional vandalism. But wondering if there's anything more to it than currently meets the eye was still enough to give the artist pause, if only for the benefit of caution.
“You need to say, 'All right Collingswood citizens, we need to take notice of what’s happening.'"
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