Richmond Hill in the springtime boasts specific telltales of a residential community. On the sidewalks of the residential streets lined with Victorian homes, children ride their bicycles and tricycles back and forth, stopping just shy of the Jamaica Avenue corner — where mom said never to go. On the front lawns, the sunshine means yard work.
In fact, the only signs that you’re in a city at all are the clanging of the passing J train and the urban blight that neighborhoods in major cities all across the world fight endlessly to defeat — graffiti.
And that’s the target of lifelong Richmond Hill resident John Sakelos.
A college student, Sakelos is tired of driving around the neighborhood and seeing graffiti vandalism everywhere.
“People talk about the ‘broken windows theory,’ where stuff like this escalates into worse crimes,” Sakelos explained. “I don’t want to see that happen here. In the past few years, it’s gotten worse.”
The graffiti is most prominent on the sides of buildings along Jamaica Avenue, especially facing side streets where there are few windows and doors and open access to external walls.
Sakelos has waged a one-man war on graffiti. He received forms from Councilman Ruben Wills’ (D-South Jamaica) office for business owners to request graffiti removal services and handed them out to some store owners. While many people accepted the forms and thanked him, some didn’t want to be bothered, he said.
One business owner painted over the graffiti, but the vandals struck again. Another only had enough money and supplies to paint over half the wall, but Sakelos said it made a difference.
He pointed out a number of graffiti hot spots along Jamaica Avenue, especially at 104th Street at the foot of the staircase leading to the 104th Street subway station, on 107th Street, where he lives, and on garage doors along 88th Avenue, one block south of Jamaica Avenue.
“It’s a shame that people have to look out the window and see this,” Sakelos said.
The 107th Street site, where graffiti mars a makeshift fence in front of a vacant lot, is especially personal to Sakelos.
“I would clean it myself if I could,” he said, noting that he had painted over graffiti on his own at other locations.
The graffiti is especially bad higher up, on multiple-story building exteriors overlooking one-story structures, some of which have not been touched in decades.
Vandals have also notably defaced the old Richmond Hill LIRR station between Jamaica and Hillside avenues, abandoned since 1998, and the wood fencing in front of the landmark facade of the Republican Club on Lefferts Boulevard.
The 102nd Precinct, which serves Richmond Hill, is no stranger to the graffiti problem.
Last week at its monthly community council meeting, Officer Diana Kaouris was given the Cop of the Month award for nabbing a suspected vandal, allegedly in the act near Forest Park. She had arrested at least seven other suspects for graffiti this winter.
Deputy Inspector Hank Sautner said the graffiti issue is hard for cops to tackle.
“It’s a huge problem over here and it’s a very difficult arrest to make live,” he said.
Cops look for patterns, including similar tags, to track down vandals. Sakelos said he had been noticing some of the same tags on different buildings too.
“It’s definitely some of the same people,” he said. “I see some of the same markings.”
Sakelos said he hopes to get a group of residents to gather together to fight the graffiti and perhaps help building owners access antigraffiti paint, which can be expensive.
“I just wish more people would take pride in their neighborhood and try to make it a better place,” he said.