Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Northeast Times: "It Got A Little Worse Each Time"

Northeast Times describes church vandalism.

Jack Hill, Dave Tuley and their fellow members of the Macalester-Torresdale Presbyterian Church have seen plenty of troublemakers come and go in the 40-plus years since their church moved to the corner of Morrell and East Crown avenues.

But few, if any, have been more troublesome than the batch currently antagonizing the Far Northeast congregation.

Hill, the church’s sexton, and Tuley, the church’s property committee chairman, have been struggling for the last couple of months to keep up with repairs to the damage left by church trespassers.

The primary problem, they say, has been graffiti. But that’s just the latest vandalism affecting the house of worship.

Hill and Tuley now hope that if they draw more public attention to the issue, perhaps it will end once and for all — or at least for the time being.

"This has been an ongoing affair for years," Hill said last week while pointing out the spots on the church most recently defaced by paint-wielding vandals.

"We’ve been here since 1964. One year, we had to get the windows repaired and it cost us $1,400. One year, they tore the back fence down. When the kids that are doing it grow older, it seems to die down. But then a new batch comes along and it picks up again."

The church has about 60 members, including a large number of senior citizens. It represents a merger of two earlier congregations, the Macalester and Torresdale
Presbyterian churches, which each date back more than a century.

This month has been particularly trying for the congregation.

"We’ve had it over the years, but not to this extent," Hill said.

"Usually they don’t keep coming back," Tuley added.

After one significant bout with graffiti in late June or early July, the vandals returned late on Aug. 4 or early Aug. 5 to strike again.

Hill and Tuley had painted over the graffiti the first time around, so the vandals treated the church like a clean slate, scrawling their names, or "tags," on doors, windows and a brick wall.

The church officers painted over the damage again, only to discover on Aug. 12 that even more damage had been done to the building during the previous night.

That time, aside from the usual tags, the unwelcome messages included a "666" satanic symbol and the words "Do not wipe off" with an arrow pointing to one of the names.

They defaced the church doors again, along with a railing, a drainpipe, a patio wall and an exhaust vent.

"That’s when they really hit us heavier," Tuley said. "It got a little worse each time."

As is advised by police, the men removed or painted over the graffiti as soon as possible — to minimize the attention or name recognition sought by the vandals — but not before contacting authorities and photographing the damage for investigative purposes.

Police detectives note the names appearing in graffiti throughout the Northeast so they can link multiple instances to a single culprit or group of culprits when appropriate.

There have been no arrests in connection with the church vandalism.

The tags that have appeared on the building are not unique to the neighborhood, however. Some of the same logos are on nearby street signs and on a gate along the perimeter of the church grounds.

Tuley even saw a group of youths vandalizing a sign one time recently, but within an instant they darted around a corner and disappeared. There were about a half-dozen youths who looked big enough to be at least high-school age.

As Tuley watched one boy scribbling on the sign, he heard a girl warn the vandal, "You’re gonna get in trouble," to which the boy replied, "I’m already done. Damn I’m quick."

The graffiti may take only seconds to paint, but it takes many man-hours and plenty of elbow grease to cover up, not to mention a good bit of cash.

Paint costs $8 per quart. Hill and Tuley use at least a couple of quarts every time they have to fix the damage. Paint rollers and brushes are another expense. While Hill earns a stipend as sexton, Tuley’s job is 100 percent voluntary.

The church admittedly has few options in trying to keep out troublemakers late at night and into the early morning hours. Thick woods along the rear of the property provide a good screen for trespassers, some of whom merely use the place as a hangout or drinking spot.

In the past, the 8th Police District has assigned bicycle patrols to the area, but Hill and Tuley realize that special attention as such can’t be permanent. And the youths seem quick to figure out when the coast is clear.

The men figure that their best bet is to get more people on or around the church property more often. Services are held every Sunday morning, while a day-care service uses the church on weekdays.

Also, some new townhouses are being built next door on ground that the church sold to a developer. Hill hopes that the presence of additional families nearby will help matters.

"We’re hoping that the fact that there’s activity there and that they can see the side of the church, that they’ll stop (the vandals)," he said.

As frustrating as the graffiti problem has been lately, Hill and Tuley don’t necessarily want to see a bunch of kids get in major trouble over the issue. All the same, they want the mischief to stop, particularly considering its negative impact on a religious institution.

"I don’t know why they target us. We do a lot for the community," Hill said.

Among many other programs, the church sponsors an annual community Easter egg hunt; distributes food baskets to the needy for Thanksgiving and Christmas; and members cook meals for local homebound seniors.

"It’s not that graffiti isn’t a shame anywhere, but on a church, it’s really a shame," Tuley said.


Blogger Allison Meets World said...

"Hill and Tuley don’t necessarily want to see a bunch of kids get in major trouble over the issue"

They're nicer than I am. I'd
want those kids to do the repainting themselves *and* pay
for it out of their own pockets.
And where are the parents of these
kids ?!

1:51 AM  

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