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Editorial: The writing is still on the wall

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We applaud the Scouts and schools and countless organizations from Little Neck to Long Island City that have worked hard to remove graffiti from the walls of Queens. They underscore the public's frustration with this epidemic of ugliness and selfishness.

But as noble as their efforts are, they are largely symbolic. If the people of Queens are to have any real hope of ridding this borough of graffiti, a greater and more sustained effort is needed.

This is not a war that can be easily won. The graffiti vandals have done tremendous damage to both public and private property and the public morale. They have in their persistence created the impression that this is a battle that cannot be won.

They are wrong. We need look no further than Ridgewood to see what can be done when a community truly declares war against graffiti.

The members of the Greater Ridgewood Development Corp. were furious about the ugly graffiti that seemed to be everywhere they looked. They steadfastly refused to give in to the vandals. They took two important courses of action. First, they set out to help the police identify and arrest the worst of the graffiti vandals. One vandal, a man who put his stickers and tag on hundreds of walls, was convicted on felony charges, a rarity in graffiti cases. The young man was ordered to spend 2,000 hours cleaning up his own mess.

Then the Ridgewood residents created a crew that works full time to remove graffiti. The crew uses a power washer to clean brick and stonewalls and uses paint to cover over graffiti on other walls. The success of the Ridgewood group has been phenomenal. They have even helped other communities with their graffiti problem. But they will be the first to admit that this is a costly and frustrating war.

Only with such a sustained effort will we see the day when Queens is graffiti free. The borough president's office is committed to this war, but it has limited resources. Help must come from homeowners and the business community. Storeowners can demonstrate a zero tolerance for graffiti by pledging to paint over any graffiti within hours after it is discovered. The owner of a chain of McDonald's restaurants did this with great success. Store managers had until 10 a.m. to paint over new graffiti. After a while, the vandals gave up. The actual cost to the owner was minimal.

In addition to such approaches, the City Council should look into the possibility of making parents pay for the damage done by their little vandals. This may not be universally fair. In some cases, parents don't know that their children do graffiti and in other cases the child may be out of their control. But we suspect that hitting Mom and Dad in the wallet would put pressure on the vandals.

The police must do more. Following the theory of "Broken Windows," the NYPD should recognize that graffiti is often tied to more serious criminal activity. The police already keep pictures and lists of tags and often know the people doing the vandalism.

Finally, more must be done to enlist the schools as allies in this war. The problem should be discussed by teachers who are unambiguous in denouncing graffiti.

We look forward to the day when it would be unthinkable to deface another person's property. There are cities in the United States and Canada that are virtually graffiti free. Why can't New York join that list?

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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