Children banished while crews clean up
By Bernard L. Stein
and Joe Hirsch
Vandals spray-painted tags on virtually every surface in Hunts Point Riverside Park on June 20, doing thousands of dollars in damage to the park that is Hunts Point’s gateway to the Bronx River.
They smeared the letters HTU and the word “slug” on pathways, in the fountain where children wade, on pilings in the river, on the shell-shaped benches near the wading pool and the stone seats of the arena. Even the park’s trees did not escape.
“It was like desecration of a temple. This is a place that is so beautiful and so well used,” said Adam Green, executive director of Rocking the Boat.
Police have been called to the park more than once to deal with a group of teens who began hanging out in the park this spring, intimidating other park users, Green said, but he doesn’t know whether the same group is responsible for the damage, which occurred some time after 6 p.m. Saturday night.
Parks Department crews began cleaning the graffiti up two days after the incident, and two Parks Enforcement Patrol officers were detailed to the park.
Cleaning crews evicted a class of kindergartners from the Bronx Charter School of the Arts from the park, telling teacher Erin Jeanneret that the cleaning chemicals they were using could be harmful to the children.
“It’s such a great place, I can’t imagine someone doing it,” Jeanneret said while leading the confused children back to school. The school has no playground for students to use, she pointed out.
Cleaning up the damage would take all week and cost an estimated $5,000, according to Jesslyn Moser, a spokeswoman for the Parks Department. While the Parks Enforcement Patrol goes from park to park, she said, “They will be extra vigilant watching over this park and working with the NYPD.”
Community Affairs Officer Art Warrick of the 41st precinct said he has been called to the park for a few minor incidents in the past.
“There were some situations with kids throwing stones over the fence, but as far as the tagging, nothing this severe,” he said, adding this is the first time he has seen the HTU or slug tags, and doesn’t know what they are meant to represent.
NYPD procedure calls for officers to enter the letters used in any reported tagging into a citywide police databank to see if other precincts have reported it elsewhere. So far there have been no matches.
“Over the years there has been very little graffiti or other vandalism at this park. We hope this proves to be an aberration,” said Bronx Parks Commissioner Hector Aponte.
The park is locked after 9 p.m., but the gate is more ornament than barrier. Saying he could “hop over the gate blindfolded,” Green said “a gate that actually keeps you out of the park is needed.”
“I’m kind of disappointed,” said Hunts Point resident and first-time park user Nicole Capers, as she surveyed the damage, while parks crews sprayed chemicals and scrubbed vandalized walkways, benches and stones.
“We got to deal with it,” said Capers, shaking her head angrily. “There’s idiots all over the place.” She said she plans to bring her one-year-old son to the park to celebrate his birthday later this summer because it will be too hot to throw a party at home.
Majora Carter, too, said she was “very disappointed,” but, she said, the attack was “galvanizing people. People are talking about ‘This is ours and we need to continue to protect it.’ I’m actually encouraged by that.”
Protecting the park is important to make users feel safe, but there is an additional reason to keep vandals at bay, said Damian Griffin, the educational director of the Bronx River Alliance, who lives in Longwood.
“This park is very different,” said Griffin.
He pointed to the unpainted wooden benches, saying they give the one-acre waterfront park a unique, rustic feel among city parks. “If maintenance becomes the issue, they’re going to paint them green,” he said. “It’s going to be like any other park.”Hunts Point Riverside was built as the result of a community effort to reclaim an illegal dump and gain access to the waterfront. It is the birthplace of Sustainable South Bronx and the Bronx River Alliance and a linchpin of the effort to restore the Bronx River.
Built at a cost of $3.2 million, the park opened in 2007. In 1997, Majora Carter, then working at The Point CDC, wrote a grant application that provided the seed money to plan the park, and The Point led community clean-ups and began using it for informal gatherings, while pressuring the city to invest in it.
Last year the park won the Rudy Bruner Award for urban design projects that help improve life in American cities. The plaque that commemorated the $10,000 prize was smeared with graffiti.
A version of this story appeared in the July 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.