Their names are scribbled, other times they’re in large balloon letters. Sometimes there are images, visions from the vandals.
At about every block along Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park, their names are there, courtesy of a marker or a can of spray paint. Whatever the medium, graffiti has been a constant concern and nuisance to many Queens residents.
Graffiti has been an issue in the City of New York since the 1970s, when people would scribble their names on subway cars, platforms and other surfaces.
About $30,000 to $50,000 of the city budget has been dedicated to cleaning graffiti in Queens in recent fiscal years, according to Councilmember Joseph Addabbo. However, the process of cleaning the wall writing could take at least a few months, and the mess left there causes urban decay, residents say.
In Queens South, from 2006 to 2007, graffiti complaints to 3-1-1 increased 80 percent, to 864, and there were 259 arrests, a 17 percent increase, according to New York Police Department statistics. Queens North saw an 84 percent rise in complaints, from 904 to 1,662, and arrests climbed 11 percent, from 615 to 680.
“Graffiti vandalism is a crime punishable by a jail term, monetary fine and/or community service,” according to the police. “Any person caught defacing property without the express permission of the owner will be arrested.
Once considered a small problem caused by a handful of teenagers, graffiti has erupted into a nationwide epidemic costing billions of dollars each year,” the police said.
The names, or “tags,” can be random, but there are many repeat offenders. A name often seen on the walls, store grates, garage doors and other surfaces in Ozone Park and surrounding neighborhoods is “SUM.”
“He’s everywhere,” said Eric Ulrich, an Ozone Park District Leader and member of several civic groups. “He’s like Ozone Park’s most wanted.
He’s targeted and hit 50 sites in Ozone Park alone, and when [SUM] is apprehended, he will be arrested for each charge.” Ulrich estimates the property damage at the hands of SUM to be at least $10,000.
The criminal who tags as SUM (sometimes as “SUM Z”) has been active for several months, getting his name out and escaping arrest.
“He’s a popular person and targeted by the 106th precinct,” Addabbo said. “They are doing their best to catch him.”
But SUM has proved to be elusive. “He’s pretty quick, he’s pretty slick,” said Officer John McCoy of the 102nd Precinct, the precinct’s leading graffiti officer, at the Richmond Hill Block Association’s June 25 meeting. The officer said SUM has hit around 160 locations. “He destroys property.”
McCoy was close to apprehending SUM, he said, but the delinquent managed to escape by switching busses. The officer promised SUM would eventually be caught and join six artists who were recently arrested in Richmond Hill for graffiti. But SUM is not the only artist residents have to worry about.
Residents with graffiti on their property should report it to 3-1-1, their local community board or civic group. Also, “Property owners or authorized representatives may submit a waiver to the City to allow authorized personnel to clean graffiti from first or second-story facades,” according to the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit.
There are 25 graffiti removal waivers in the 102nd Precinct and 13 in the 106th Precinct, according to the Community Affairs Unit web site. The earliest waiver date was submitted in September of 2007. It could take up to a year to process a graffiti removal request.
While removing graffiti is a step forward, prevention measures must be taken, Addabbo said. “Graffiti is one of those crimes that’s hard to enforce and prosecute. The City Council has been trying to up the punishment. We need to increase the penalty to where the person would not want to do it again.”
HAD ENOUGH GRAFFITI YET?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Our neighborhoods have turned into ugly landscapes resembling war zones in foreign lands.
We have had enough of it - how about you?
It is time for all of us to begin to take back our streets and neighborhoods a block at a time. This is one war we must win. Graffiti hurts property values, it hurts business it can even harm your families.
Graffiti is the language of the gangs and gangs threaten our children by enticing them to join and belong. We must stop this spreading disease.
How can you help? What can you do?