Paint Wars

An alley in Jackson Heights is being made to look like the New York City of the past that was plagued by graffiti. Several teenagers, believed to be between the ages of fourteen and eighteen have taken to spray-painting graffiti art on the garage doors of homeowners whose approximately twenty-four houses make up an alleyway between eighty-eighth and eighty-seventh street in the borough of Queens.

Residents report these incidents as being ongoing, and the latest one occurred just last week. No culprits have been caught. The crimes occur in the late-night/early morning hours, and this only adds to the frustrations of the residents, who are prone to waking up to find these surprises.

“ No one likes to have their house marked up.” Said Melanie Ellen, a member of the alleyway’s association. “ It’s a hassle.”

Ellen has seen the displays since moving in to her house in ???. She eludes to a ‘turf war’ between homeowners living in the three-story houses, and the teenagers of the neighborhood who reside in apartment buildings. “ The homeowners want to keep things nice, and the kids want to prove they exist.”

The ‘tags’– spray-painted proverbial John Hancocks of graffiti ‘artists’– usually include symbols, or names and nicknames of the offender. According to Ellen, they show up most frequently on garage doors and the neighborhood landmark signs of the area, which are meant to give a nice touch to the block, but become even more damaged and unsightly upon attempted paint removal.

Aside from alleyway association meetings, the issue is brought up at the community meetings which take place at local New York Police Department Precinct- 115. Here, a community liaison, or sergeant speaks with the locals.

“ [The police] can’t do much about it, though.” Ellen says. “ They have to catch them in the act. But the culprit can see them coming and run.”

Since the police are evadable and therefore can offer little assistance, residents are left to deal with the problem on their own. This means spending time panting over the blemishes left on their homes. Usually, the same day upon finding the graffiti, residents will reluctantly do so. At times, frustrated neighbors will even help out and paint the doors that are not their own.

Residents have several current and potential actions against the perpetrators. One example Ellen gave is the purchasing of paint that is harder to spray over than other brands. Those perhaps most likely to utilize this are those whose garage doors are white, which displays spray paint best the most easily. Ellen admits hers has not been painted because of its dark green shade.

One prominent resident of the street is the superintendent in the apartment building that sits on the block after the one and two family houses of the alley end. Since one wall of his building is another target, Ellen says he is planning to keep a closer watch and stay outside more than usual.

There have been talks of a security camera being rigged up. However, it is expensive to buy and maintain.

With few options, the residents can only hope that it will end soon.

-Amy Eiferman

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