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Graffiti: An Organized Crime

March 5, 2008


When we walk up and down Burnside and Jerome avenues, we see graffiti work illustrated on the walls of our community. Yet we rarely witness this graffiti being produced. It’s something we see everywhere in the Bronx, but we don’t know much about it.

Graffiti Some residents claim that graffiti makes the community beautiful; others think it makes it ugly. But these opinions do nothing to advance our knowledge of the graffiti subculture. For while graffiti is both art and vandalism, it’s also something else: a basic level of organized crime.

All Graffiti Writers Belong to a Group

The graffiti subculture is a basic level of organized crime because, similar to traditional organized crime, members belong to a group. Take, for instance, the Italian Mafia of New York City. All Mafiosi belong to one of five families. Similarly, each Bronx graffiti writer belongs to a group within the subculture. These groups are known as “crews.” An example of a crew active in the Mount Hope neighborhood is D.F.A., which stands for “Down for Anything.” All of the members of the crew support and rely on each other, as do the members of individual families within the Italian Mafia.

Graffiti Writers Scheme

The graffiti subculture is also a low level of organized crime because of the way the tools of the trade are obtained. Traditionally, organized crime groups obtain the tools they use to commit their crimes illegally and strategically. For example, members of the Mafia buy drugs and guns, and they do so strategically to avoid arrest. Graffiti writers also get their spray paints in a strategic fashion. Graffitists refer to this process as “racking” – the process of obtaining paint through shoplifting or other means. One strategy is traveling to states where laws governing the purchasing of spray paint are more lenient. In such a state, Connecticut for example, the graffitists will purchase one spray paint but steal many more. SKID, a graffiti writer who co-founded D.F.A, says: “You never rack in the city. That’s why I go out of state to rack my paint.”

Graffiti Writers Plan Their Crimes

The graffiti subculture in the Mount Hope area is also a basic level of organized crime because, like organized crime groups, they plan ahead before they execute their crimes. In organized crime, individuals engage in illegal activities such as gambling and prostitution, racketeering, and human trafficking. Because they’re well planned out so as to avoid detection, many of these crimes go unnoticed by the general public. In the same way, graffiti writers execute their graffiti work all throughout the neighborhood, and yet personally go unnoticed by the local residents and property owners. “We bomb late when everyone is sleeping,” SKID says.

“Bombing” is the process of writing one’s tag on numerous buildings, walls, and fences, and the like, all at one time, without being noticed or caught. As such, when a graffitist goes out to produce his work, he will be accompanied by one or two other writers from his crew. As one writer executes his work on a property, the others are on the lookout. DOLT, another graffiti writer from the D.F.A. crew, says, “When we go bombing, we always carry our cell phones and have each other’s back. I have their back, and they got my back.” The graffitists call each other if someone is coming in the direction of the writer who is producing the work. That way the writer avoids being arrested and charged with vandalism.

In the Bronx graffiti subculture, from joining a crew to becoming an active member, all of these activities are thought out and planned. As such, the graffiti subculture is a basic level of organized crime, whether or not the members of the subculture recognize it.

Jose Roman, a regular contributor to the Mount Hope Monitor, is currently completing a master’s thesis on the politics of graffiti. He lives in Mount Hope.

Davidson Avenue Playground

March 5, 2008

In the article “Parks in Need of Repair” published in the February edition of the Mount Hope Monitor, the author, Jose Roman wrote about the dilapidated condition of a park on Davidson Avenue near 177th Street.
As a resident of the community, I agree that we should do something about this park. As the president of the Mount Hope Community Ambassador Program, a tenant leadership program of the Mount Hope Housing Company, I am more than willing to work with other community ambassadors and local tenants to rebuild the park and to revitalize our community once and for all. I urge other residents to take interest in this issue, and to help in the process. Together we can make a difference!

John Ode, 176th Street

The Need for Stricter Gun Laws

March 5, 2008

Crime Watch, the Mount Hope Monitor’s police blotter, provides information on recent serious crimes in the 46th Precinct – the newspaper’s coverage area.

Often it makes for depressing reading. Just look at Crime Watch in this current edition – a litany of horrors if ever there was one. Still, we think it’s important to document these crimes. Local residents have a right to know what’s happening and where it’s happening.

Yes, crime has come down significantly in recent years – in the precinct and in the city as a whole – and we should applaud these victories. But at the same time, we shouldn’t sweep the remaining problems – and there are many – under the carpet and pretend all is well.

More often than not, it’s guns that cause the damage. In early March, a 3-year-old girl was shot by a stray bullet during a shootout on Morris Avenue at 182nd Street (a notorious drug-dealing block) at 8:30 in the morning. Fortunately, her injuries aren’t life threatening, but this type of incident – kids caught in crossfire – is surprisingly common. On Dec. 31, for example, another 3-year-old girl was injured near East 184th Street near Tiebout Avenue.

We can’t snap our fingers and eradicate gun crime. But we can, and should, support those who advocate for tougher gun laws. Don’t expect to hear anything from our current crop of presidential hopefuls, though. Even Barack Obama, supposedly the most left-leaning candidate, “shares the general enthusiasm for avoiding the subject of gun control,” wrote New York Times columnist Gail Collins in a February column. (Collins pointed out that not once is the topic mentioned in Obama’s 64-page “Blueprint for Change” manual posted on his Web site.)

But there are those who take a stand. New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (www.nyagv.org) and Mayors Against Illegal Guns (www.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org), for instance, want to see legislation that makes it easier to trace firearms and prosecute gun traffickers, and legislation that demands thorough background checks for those who buy guns.

Let’s gets behind these groups, and give volume to their voice. With fewer guns on the streets, the Monitor’s Crime Watch section will shrivel and die, and everyone will be happy about that.

Foster Mulls Run for Borough President

March 5, 2008


Councilmember Helen Diane Foster, whose 16th District includes parts of Morris Heights, appears close to officially announcing her candidacy for Bronx borough president. 

On Feb. 7, Foster met with 40 to 50 supporters-a group that included several local religious leaders and members of her senior council-for a strategizing session at Christ Church in Morrisania. Foster presented the meeting as a grassroots dialogue with constituents on the topic of what political path she should follow after her city council term ends on Dec.31, 2009.

“When we started this in 2000,” Foster told those in attendance, referring to the year she launched her first campaign for city council, “we looked at this as a movement – not as Helen Diane Foster.”

During the meeting, in addition to mulling over the possibility of running for Bronx borough president or another citywide office, such as public advocate, Foster raised an additional prospect she said enticed her: taking a position in the administration of Barack Obama, should he win the presidency in November and offer her a job. Foster, an ardent Obama supporter, even said at one point that she had the candidate’s cell phone number.

Not Official… Yet

At the meeting, several of Foster’s supporters expressed that the Bronx borough presidency would be a good fit for her. Joyce Hogi, a steadfast opponent of the Yankee Stadium project as a member of Save Our Parks, said that, as she watched Foster’s sustained opposition to the project unfold, she viewed a run for borough president as a natural next step for the councilmember.

Others were less certain. Minister Abraham Jones, the executive director of Claremont Neighborhood Centers, Inc.- a childcare center in Morrisania-told Foster he thought she should consider a run at the position but added that, if Obama is elected and offers her a job in his administration, she should consider such an offer “very hard, very deeply, and very prayerfully.”

Foster’s older sister, Michelle, wondered how much impact Foster could make on city policy as borough president. “Doesn’t he just cut ribbons?” she asked, suggesting the office was “decorative” in many ways.

The councilmember responded by acknowledging that the Bronx borough president’s power is limited in comparison to that of the mayor, city council, and state legislature, but argued that the job had value nonetheless.

“Being the president of the Bronx,” she quipped, “you get to take credit for everything. Including the parting of the Red Sea.”

As the meeting drew to a close, Michelle Foster was apparently won over. “My sister just emailed me,” Councilmember Foster announced, “and said, ‘It sounds like the people have spoken, Mrs. Borough President.’”

However, in a recent phone interview, Foster said that she had not officially decided to run for borough president.

Weighing Advantages and Disadvantages

Either way, the Feb. 7 session provided insights into what the Foster campaign views as strengths-and obstacles-in a potential bid for the job currently held by Adolfo Carrión.  For one, Foster cited her “church appeal,” saying she knew ministers in Brooklyn and Queens who were in more frequent contact with her than with elected officials in their own districts.

Foster and her supporters also said her willingness to fight for positions that are unpopular among her City Council colleagues had earned respect from voters throughout the five boroughs. In addition to opposing the construction of a new Yankee Stadium and a filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park, Foster also cited her support of a highly-controversial bill to name a street in Brooklyn after Black nationalist Sonny Carson (a bill that the mayor and city council speaker helped to block).

“There were some white people who told me, ‘I didn’t like Sonny Carson, he was this, this, and this,’ but what went down at City Hall wasn’t right,” Foster said.

Titus Walker, the director of the Ujamaa Black Theater, who grew up on Summit Avenue in the 1960s, praised Foster as a leader who placed the needs of community residents and organizations over strategic political alliances. He, too, cited her opposition to the stadium project as one example. “When you work for the disenfranchised,” Walker said after the meeting, “it’s just not a popular thing.”

Foster’s outspokenness, said longtime “BronxTalk” host and producer Gary Axelbank, could be a double-edged sword for her campaign. Axelbank, who in previous years has moderated several debates between borough president candidates, characterized Foster’s stands against the stadium and filtration plant projects as “courageous.” 

But he suggested these positions could hurt her financially. “The corporate base of support is not in that direction,” Axelbank said, citing as an example the Bronx Chamber of Commerce’s support for both the filtration and Yankee Stadium projects. Axelbank also noted the lack of corporations or large businesses in Foster’s district.

On Jan. 29, Daily News political reporter Bob Kapstatter noted that City Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera and Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr.-two of Foster’s main rivals for the borough presidency should she decide to seek it-have already raised $201,996 and $107,985, respectively, for their campaigns. Foster received her first campaign contributions from supporters at the Feb. 7 meeting.

But Foster expressed confidence that she will be able to raise funds by way of a large number of donors giving small contributions. “I think I’ll be able to raise money as I’m always able,” Foster told the Highbridge Horizon. “Definitely the grassroots.”

Another big topic of discussion at the meeting was the question of whether Foster could win a sizeable number of votes from Latino New Yorkers in a race against Latino candidates Diaz and Rivera.  If Foster were to seek-and win-the race, she would be the first African-American to ever serve as Bronx borough president. Foster said repeatedly that she had a good relationship with the Latino community, but admitted concern about the prospect of a one-on-one showdown with a Latino candidate.

“I don’t know how that will pan out if you have Diaz and Foster on the ballot,” Foster said. “My Spanish is ‘un poquito.’ I’m going to sound like an American in France trying to speak French.”

Later in the meeting, the issue became a source of a back-and-forth between Foster and her father, former 16th District Councilman Rev. Wendell Foster. 

“Black people vote for everybody, and get votes only for themselves,” Rev. Foster said, citing as one example the fact that Hillary Clinton got more votes from Latinos in the recent state primaries than did Barack Obama.  “Don’t expect too much support from the Latino community.”

As he continued to speak on that issue, his exasperated daughter repeatedly attempted to interject, cutting in, “Dad, Dad.”

“In no way do I see this as a Black versus Latino or Puerto Rican thing,” Councilmember Foster said, when finally she did get to speak. Foster said she felt she could, wanted to, and needed, to appeal to voters of all races.

Foster said she would make a formal announcement about her future plans after another meeting with supporters, on March 13.

Article first appeared in the Highbridge Horizon.



Crime Watch, March 2008

March 5, 2008

Little Girl Injured by Stray Bullet

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on March 3, a gun battle erupted on Morris Avenue at 182nd Street, police said. A three-year-old girl was caught in the cross fire, and suffered a bullet wound to the foot. Two men, ages 19 and 21, were also injured. All are expected to recover. It wasn’t immediately clear if the men were shooting at each other. “The most alarming thing is that this happened in broad daylight, just as children were going to school,” said Sergeant Mark Turner of the 46th Precinct’s Community Affairs.

Baby Killed by Flying Golf Club

A six-month-old child was struck in the head with a golf club during a dispute between two men on Feb. 23 at 1 p.m., police said. She was rushed from 2188 Creston Avenue to Montefiore Hospital where she was admitted in critical condition. McKinley Williams, the baby’s grandfather, was arrested for charges of assault, reckless endangerment, criminal possession of a weapon and endangering the welfare of a child. The infant succumbed to her injuries on the Feb. 27. The Medical Examiners Office identified her as Shariyah Stewart.

Man Stabbed to Death

Police responded to a call at 2075 Grand Concourse on Feb. 13 at approximately 10 p.m. Officers found a 22-year-old male with stab wounds to the chest. The man, identified as Harry Ward, was rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital where he was pronounced dead on the arrival. Jackeline Brown, Ward’s girlfriend, was arrested and charged with murder.

One Dead, One Injured in Shooting

According to the New York Post, a 26-year-old man was shot dead on East 178th Street and Valentine Avenue, on the evening of Feb. 28. Another man, a 21-year-old, was shot in the shoulder during the same incident. He was listed in stable condition at St. Barnabas Hospital.

Father Sought in Abandoned Baby Plot

As of March 5, police are continuing to hunt for a man who reportedly hatched a plan to abandon his six-month-old baby at a Queens firehouse.

The man, 27-year-old Carlos Rodas, of 79 W. 182nd St., allegedly conspired with Klever Sailema, a taxi driver. Sailema dropped six-month-old Daniella Perez off at the firehouse on the evening of Feb. 28, after claiming someone had left her in the back seat of his cab. Detectives soon poked holes in his story and Sailema, who was initially hailed a hero in the media, was arrested the following day.

Police didn’t identify the baby’s mother although it’s understood she’s just 14. She hasn’t been charged with any crime. Police said she’s in the care of the Administration for Children’s Services.

By CHRIS MATTHEWS and DAVID GREENE of the Mount Hope Monitor

Carrión Touts Borough’s Progress

March 5, 2008

CarrionBronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión gave his seventh annual State of the Borough Address at Fordham University on Feb. 8.

Carrión, the former district manager of Community Board 5, said that the Bronx has come a long way under his tenure. The unemployment rate is half what it was in 2001, he said, crime is at historic lows, and affordable housing production has soared. Meanwhile, several major developments are under way including the Gateway Center Mall at 149th Street, and the new Yankee Stadium.

Because of term limits, Carrión will step down on Jan. 31, 2009. “I’m increasingly anxious to ensure the work we started is completed,” he said during the speech, “and that we leave a stronger, more beautiful and more productive county to those who continue this great task.”

In December, Carrión surprised many by announcing that he’ll be running for city comptroller and not the city’s next mayor.

By JAMES FERGUSSON of the Mount Hope Monitor

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