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Church graffiti bane for Van Nest pastor

Bronx Times
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Thou shalt not tag.

It may not be in the commandments, but it’s certainly on the minds of congregants at this Van Nest church.

The Love Gospel Church has been waiting for months to get the latest graffiti gang symbols removed from its wall.

Names like “Y.O.E. ARAB”, “Y.O.E. Bangar” and “Crips” are crudely scrawled on the maroon wall, with another large unintelligible symbol at the far end.

Pastor Felipe Velazquez characterizes the vandalism as an as-yet undefeated quality of life issue.

“It happens so many times,” said Velazquez, outraged over the lack of respect for his church, host to both religious services and community meetings.

Love Gospel Church is not the only Van Nest building neighborhood vandals have used as a personal spray paint canvas.

Gang symbols of the so-called Yum Up Gang can also be seen defacing a house on the corner of Melville and Van Nest Avenues.

No arrests have been made so far, a fact Velazquez is not happy about.

“I blame the kids,” he said, adding they simply “have nothing to do.”

Much of the vandalism happens after Felipe and his small staff close up the church, leaving it vulnerable at night.

“We don’t have anyone taking care of the building,” said Velazquez.

He’s tried several times to clean up after the vandals, even enlisting the help of Senator Jeff Klein.

In 2010, volunteers with Klein’s graffiti removal program re-painted the church walls.

But the graffiti came back shortly.

And now, Klein’s hands are tied as funding for his 2005 program is laying “dormant” because of budget cuts in Albany.

“We have been forced to wind down beneficial community initiatives like my graffiti removal program,” said Klein, who is now asking Albany to re-allocate funds for his program.

Klein’s office is also reaching out to the city’s Graffiti Free NYC Program. The initiative asks residents to report graffiti hot spots so they can be cleaned up.

The city also provides graffiti-removal supplies, provided community-based organizations submit a request through nyc.gov or call 311.

There is a waiting period after the submission, but a spokesman said Klein is pushing for the city to expedite the process for Love Gospel Church.

Velazquez is also taking some proactive steps on his own, including installing a hidden video surveillance system.

District Attorney Robert Johnson’s office said it handled about 97 graffiti cases in 2009, most designated as misdemeanors carrying a maximum one-year sentence.

Most graffiti cases, however, usually carry an alternative sentence of community service.

Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383 or email dcruz@cnglocal.com.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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CNG: Community Newspaper Group