Graffiti vandals revisit recently-cleaned site

The wall behind the Footlocker at Westchester Square was repainted to cover up the graffiti – only later to be vandalized with graffiti again. Photo by Victor Chu

Graffiti is a point of irritation for some merchants and residents in Westchester Square. They say the spray-paint shouts “bad neighborhood” to passing straphangers and borough shoppers.

Last month, city workers wiped the square’s Foot Locker clean.

Now the graffiti is back.

“This is really becoming a blight on our neighborhood,” Westchester Square Merchants Association vice president Joe Regina said. “There’s got to be a way we can deter these vandals.”

Graffiti Free, a mayor’s office campaign, visited the square October 22 to remove illegal art from more than 20 locations. But Foot Locker’s rear wall, which faces Benson Street, didn’t stay blank for long.

“All it takes is one guy with a spray can,” Sandi Lusk from the Westchester Square Improvement Organization said. “And his name is ‘Peep.’”

According to Regina, the square’s scrawlers target high walls and hard-to-reach nooks. Regina believes the graffiti reflects poorly on Westchester Square.

“It affects what we do here,” he said. “The square isn’t a ghetto – it shouldn’t look like a ghetto.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Community Assistance Unit launched Graffiti Free Bronx in 2008.

A scientific study announced Thursday, November 20 found that graffiti encourages people to steal and litter.

When a nearby wall had graffiti, Dutch researchers watched 69 percent of passersby litter. Sans grafitti – only 33 percent did. Nearly 25 percent of those observed took money from a mailbox placed close to graffiti. When the graffiti wasn’t there, just 13 percent stole.

“We have to be committed in the fight against graffiti,” City Councilman James Vacca said. “Our efforts suffer during the winter. It’s frustrating to see the graffiti come back, but leaving it sends a negative message.”

Months ago, Regina and others worried that Foot Locker wouldn’t take action. The store has since pledged to keep its rear wall tidy.

“The graffiti doesn’t hurt our business,” Foot Locker’s manager, Ralph Goris, said. “But we know that people live back there. The wall will get cleaned again.”

Lusk has floated a controversial alternative.

“If the landlord were amenable, we could install a really nice mural,” she said. “We could contact Bronx Council on the Arts.”

According to Lusk, taggers tend not to deface murals. Some Bronxites, however, dislike graffiti-style murals – what Lusk has in mind for Foot Locker.

“Whether it’s tagging or what they call art, I call it an eyesore,” Regina said.

Regina praised Foot Locker’s recent cooperation, while Vacca stressed law enforcement.

“If a mural is done in good taste, that’s an option,” he said. “The real answer is to catch the vandals, though.”

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