On a recent rainy Saturday afternoon, Ed Wendell stopped the car every few blocks to inspect one of the graffiti-covered mailboxes in his neighborhood.
If untagged, he and fellow Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA) member Alex Blenkinsopp felt it a small victory. If retagged, Wendell rolled down the window, despite the raindrops, and snapped a picture of the graffiti on the box.
Over the past two years, the WRBA has been trying to clean up graffiti in the neighborhood, which is mainly found on mailboxes or fireboxes. In the last few months, members have gone out to repaint them — sometimes to find them retagged a few days or weeks later.
Wendell, president of the WRBA, and members have mapped out the neighborhood into three zones to keep track of common graffiti areas.
They went out to clean up “Zone A” on Saturday, July 14, where Wendell said 44 percent of the mailboxes had been tagged. By day’s end the entire zone — bordered by Park Lane South and Atlantic Avenue — was cleaned, he said. By Tuesday, July 24, however, Wendell said 56 percent of the mailboxes in Zone A were tagged again.
Residents, armed with green and blue paint courtesy of the U.S. Post Office, have not only been recording which boxes are marked, but the tags as well, in an attempt to combat consistent graffitists.
“Now what we’ve added to it is keeping track of the tags themselves,” Wendell said, noting that Zone B extends from 85th Street to Woodhaven Boulevard, and Zone C from Eldert Lane to 80th Street .
The 102nd Precinct currently has two officers who, along with regular duties, are assigned to specialize in graffiti: identifying, removing and preventing.
Wendell and Blenkinsopp said the association has been working with these officers.
“I’m sure they have a lot of information they can pass along to us,” he said.
A precinct spokesperson said officers had been in touch with the block association, which has been forwarding emails and information to the graffiti officers.
Wendell said he’s hopeful some of these taggers will be caught, noting that he would be open to those guilty helping in the clean up efforts.
“I’d love to see when they catch one of these guys,” he said.
Despite a plethora of mailboxes covered sometimes in several, varying tags, Wendell said graffiti in the neighborhood is not as bad as it was in the 1970s, when an entire subway car could be covered in spraypaint. One popular tag throughout the neighborhood back then, he said, was called “Fred board in the head.” The tag featured a man’s face with a board of wood nailed to it.
Today’s popular tags run the gamut, he said.
Blenkinsopp and Wendell also mentioned that others have argued graffiti is a form of expression or artwork, but mailboxes or other public landmarks were not the correct medium.
“This is different,” Blenkinsopp said. “They’re getting their name out there and they’re marking their territory.” He went on to mention 5pointz in Long Island City as a positive place to use graffiti, as it was designated for such.
“I’d like to hear more of a citywide effort to solve this,” Wendell said.