By Joy Bergmann
“I want people to know I’ve changed. I’ve learned my lesson and I’m very sorry,” says the 19-year-old, a lifelong Upper West Sider whom WSR agreed to call “Albert” after his favorite writer, Camus, in exchange for a candid interview prior to his case being adjudicated.
Albert says he started tagging late last year as an “inane” response to multiple stressors. Quarantining boredom. Family problems. Feeling stuck since graduating high school and not yet finding a job or college that fit. “I couldn’t really do anything, so I just thought it’d be fun to just spray [Done] around all over the place and get my name out there. And when I said ‘Done with Life’ I just wanted to get attention.”
He got it when 24th Precinct officers say they caught him defacing property and arrested him in late January.
Spending one night in the 2-4’s holding cell was enough motivation to declare himself done with vandalism. “It was bad. I didn’t like it,” says Albert. “I realized I upset a lot of people…especially with the Soldiers’ monument. I don’t know what I was thinking…I promise: no more…I’ve patched myself up and got my shit together.”
To start proving it, Albert signed up for the 20th Precinct’s clean up crew and was among the first volunteers to show up Saturday morning.
He headed out to paint over graffiti at multiple UWS sites, supervised by Officer Edward Groger and Officer Roberto Vasquez, Neighborhood Coordination Officers with the 20th. Asked how he felt after covering other taggers’ scrawls, he said “Helpful.”
Lt. Anthony Lavino, who heads up Special Operations and addresses quality-of-life concerns in the 20th, says the amount of graffiti has remained “pretty steady” over his six years in the area. “Sometimes it’s because [taggers] just want to be noticed. Sometimes there’s more malicious intent; they just want to cause damage,” he says. “In the 2-0 Precinct, we have virtually no gang graffiti that I’ve seen.”
He says community input is key to attacking vandalism early and often. “If graffiti is observed, call 311, call 911. Report it to us,” says Lavino. “If that information isn’t related to us, we may not know about it.” The NYPD has also established a new email address where residents may send photos of locations needing attention: Graffiti@nypd.org.
Albert vows never to be part of any future complaints.
He says he’s now putting his energy into reading “a ton of philosophy. I read Aristotle and Sartre for fun.” He hopes that when the Covid-19 virus recedes and hiring picks up, he’ll find a “non-cubicle” job or give college another try. He’s started painting again — abstract works on canvas — and yearns to take more in-person classes at The Art Students League. “There are a lot of old people there. I really like talking to them about art.”