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Civic leader to monitor graffiti-related sentencing

Tony Canatta is headed to court. He and other members of the Waterbury LaSalle Community Association want the Bronx judicial bench to know: residents of the east Bronx consider graffiti a serious offense. The WLCA will launch a court watcher initiative soon, Canatta said. It has been a topic of discussion for a year or two. Members will attend graffiti-related cases to combat clemency. Graffiti is not a high priority on E. 161st Street, Canatta said. The vandals who deface E. Tremont and Waterbury LaSalle “get off easy.”

“We need someone from the neighborhood in court to testify,” said Canatta. “We need the judges to know that people care.”

WLCA participants won’t necessarily testify. They’ll sit at the back of the courtroom in printed t-shirts. Senator Jeff Klein has offered to help. The t-shirts will read “NO GRAFFITI” or some related message. WLCA member Mary Jane Musano recently met a prominent Bronx judge, John Collins. When it comes to graffiti, the court rarely adheres to the letter of the law, Collins told Musano. Murder and rape are punished, not graffiti.

Musano is satisfied with the 45th Precinct; the police nab vandal after vandal, she said. If the WLCA court watcher initiative is successful, Musano will recruit other east Bronx civic associations. Years ago, east Bronx leaders mounted a court watcher initiative to protest auto theft. It worked.

“We complain to the police,” Musano said. “We complain to the mayor. People treat graffiti as if it wasn’t a crime. It is.”

Klein has proposed legislation that would require sentenced vandals to perform graffiti removal. In fact, most sentenced vandals do so already, Benjamin Smith of Bronx Community Solutions said. Bronx Community Solutions is a four-year old non-profit project. It attempts to diminish the borough’s reliance on short-term jail sentences for non-violent offenses such as drug possession, prostitution and graffiti. Rather than sentence a graffiti vandal to a month in the slammer, a judge will let Smith put him or her to work. The Bronx Community Solutions Tag Team paints over and washes away graffiti.

Smith is not an advocate of court watcher initiatives; it’s difficult to pinpoint and attend a two-minute graffiti case. He suggested that the WLCA launch a letter campaign. Musano hopes to enlist more than 20 people from the WLCA and other civic associations. Ten-plus participants will attend court together, she said. According to Canatta. Graffiti is on the uptick not only in business, but also residential areas.

“On garages and fences,” he said. “Summer is here. School is out. The vandals are getting bold.”

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