A few days ago I was sipping my morning coffee and heard loud voices in front of our little house on 45th Street in City Heights. I walked outside to find two neighbors gathered around the broken windshield of a car parked there. Their voices were strained and angry. Then they would go quiet for a few shocked moments before resuming the conversation.
This is the third time that the windshield of this particular car has been smashed. James poked around in the plants outside my fence and found a large triangular rock that fit the bill for the weapon used to smash the windshield. I learned that this particular car has also been hit in the past with graffiti and its tank filled with sugar.
The police did not send anyone out to take a report. Was it reported only as an isolated incident, or as a continuing issue of vandalism? I didn’t think to ask.
The conversation changed to one of speculation about motives. Was there something about the owner of the car that engendered these acts of vandalism? This is City Heights, so the first question is whether the vandalism was gang motivated, right? From where I stood I could see large tagging on the fences on both sides of Polk Avenue, sure signs of the recent uptick of gang activity in the area.
It is perhaps difficult for people who live outside of City Heights to understand that the majority of people who live in this community do not have gang affiliations. It is even hard for those of us living in City Heights to recognize that you can be shot dead, your car vandalized, or your home burgled for reasons other than that the victim had gang affiliations. But there you have it- gang affiliated, probably, unless proven otherwise in City Heights.
The three of us promised that we would contact the police department and ask them to be more involved in this situation. I haven’t contacted the police department yet, because I am trying to sort through a number of things and do a little research. The first question I have is whether there is any relationship between the increased tagging in the area and the vandalism of this particular car. The two aren’t necessarily related and both concern me.
Graffiti and vandalism can have a sobering, destabilizing effect upon a particular street. When they are not isolated instances, residents respond to them as acts of guerrilla warfare in which a small mobile often unidentifiable force strikes a vulnerable target and withdraws immediately. We are left asking “Why here, now?” We are put into a largely reactive position. That is the point, of course.
Responding to graffiti and covering the costs of theft and vandalism have become a form of “poor tax,” adding to the burden of purchasing security doors and in the past, the increased cost of car insurance based solely upon our 92105 zip code.
Painting out graffiti is time consuming and enraging to property owners. Often the paint out, effected in a color that doesn’t match the original, is as unpleasant looking as the graffiti. Neighbors on the block do paint over the tagging, some much sooner than others. The tagging seems to be equal opportunity to the degree that it springs up on certain corners with little if any regard for the race or ethnicity of the property dweller. The walls are simply treated as billboards.
But the vandalism of this one particular car, and no others on the street, has a potentially ugly racial/ethnic quality to it. The owner of the car is a young quiet woman who attends college. She is also ethnic Chinese from Vietnam. A few months ago, someone hurled a bucket of red paint onto the patio in front of the complex where she and other families of the same ethnicity live.
James responded angrily to the graffiti and broken windshield, saying that they are just another indication of what a crappy place City Heights is. He muttered something about moving. Many of us have said the same thing on occasion, feeling defeated as much as angry.
How crappy of a place is City Heights, in terms of crime? I visited the City’s site for the police department and looked at the stats for the past year, broken down by neighborhood. City Heights stats are divided into a number of geographical areas, and ours is Teralta East.
Overall, Teralta East had less crime than the adjacent community of Talmadge and Rancho Peñasquitos in the northern part of the city. That frankly surprised me. But those aggregated statistics don’t reveal the specific hot-spots which are often the site of a preponderance of criminal activity.
I also did a futile Google search to identify gangs and taggers in City Heights. Tagging has been an off-again on-again issue on the street since we moved here twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years ago, no one gang held sway over the area. Crips, Bloods, and an Asian gang tagged and counter- tagged businesses and private property. Then the tagging stopped for the most part, until recently.
Today I will try to find the “gatekeeper” within our local police station, someone who is willing to talk to me about tagging and gang activity in the area, and provide some insight into the ongoing vandalism of one specific neighbor’s property. I will report back to readers what I learn.
Author’s Update, February 17, 2013: I contacted the Mid-City Police Sub-Station after posting this article. Lieutenant Eric Hays responded immediately to my email. He was aware of the tagging on Polk Avenue. He gave the information about the tagging and vandalism to Officer Murillo, who also contacted me.
The Urban Corps came out and painted over the graffiti within 24 hours. The tagging is an ongoing problem. It reappeared again, but not as much as before. I was able to provide Officer Murillo’s contact information to my neighbor whose car had been vandalized. I suspect that the fear of retaliation will out weigh the desire to pursue further contact with the police. That fear of retaliation is one of the biggest impediments to taking action in this neighborhood to resolve some of the most serious problems.