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NYC Subways - the good stuff-Best thread on 12 oz!


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  • 3 weeks later...

The Graffiti Wars In New York`s Subway

April 26, 1985|By Peter V. Leyden. Columbia News Service.



NEW YORK — Graffiti-busters have stalked the city`s subways for the last few years in search of elusive crews of kids who cover the city`s underworld with cryptic marks.


Each morning about 34 undercover police posing as bankers and bums gather in a dingy one-room office at the Bronx`s East 180th Street subway stop before they infiltrate the system to nab writers.



Each afternoon after school, graffiti writers meet a few stops down the line at the East 149th Street station around the ``writer`s bench``--the last bench on the platform--where they trade ideas from ``piece books,`` or portfolios, and plan elaborate ``bombing`` raids.


The raids and police counter-raids take place in the ``ghostyards``--the repair shops and yards where the trains sit at night. The kids climb fences and tiptoe past electrified rails in order to put their murals on the sides of cars, and the police chase after them for their big busts.


``To the kids, it`s cops and robbers,`` said Sgt. Kenny Chiulli, one of two men heading the Transit Authority`s Anti-Vandal and Graffiti Unit.


``They`re British commandos. It`s great to sneak through the tunnels and yards trying to make the cops look stupid. It`s mysterious, exciting. You`re Indiana Jones.``


``They respect us,`` said Mack, a ``king`` or top writer, referring to Sgt. Chiulli`s unit. The 19-year-old sat enthroned on the writers` bench while ``toys,`` or novices, gathered around to listen. ``They`re just doing their job.``


The subway graffiti problem began about 1970 when TAKI 183 and others became infamous for leaving their names and street numbers on the trains. By the late 1970s the cars were covered with ``tags`` and the city was spending $4 million a year in a futile attempt to remove the graffiti.


In the 1970s five plainclothes cops led by the legendary ``Hickey and Ski,`` officers Kevin Hickey and Conrad Lesnewski, were the only ones combating graffiti. Almost all the kids tell horror stories about the ``good old days`` when writers claimed to have been dangled over live rails.


Since 1980 the antigraffiti unit has been expanded to 34 men. Some of the yards have upgraded security by adding toothy dogs and double lines of fences topped with razor-edged wire.


The city took another tack on their war on graffiti by airing TV commercials featuring Hector ``Macho`` Comacho, the professional boxer, who told kids to make their mark on society like he did rather than on the subways.


``It went over their heads,`` Sgt. Chiulli said. ``If I`m a skinny kid in the South Bronx that`s not as tough as Macho, I`m still going to mark up the trains.``


Recently the city contracted Joe Delutri to concoct 10,000 gallons of his ``Orange Magic,`` an edible cleanser made of citric acid, in his basement in Brooklyn. The organic solution reportedly removes graffiti without removing the paint underneath it.


Police raids on the ghostyards remain the main thrust of antigraffiti activity. Sgt. Chiulli maintains extensive files on the 1,500 most notorious writers and has a network of informants to tip him off on strikes.


The writers are undaunted by their opposition`s superior resources. Blame, an 18-year-old toting a huge piece book, said, ``We know when they`re making their move. We be catching a lot of rumors.``


``There are 50 ways in and 100 ways out (of the ghostyards),`` said Dillinger, a small, fidgety 20-year-old. ``The problem is you can panic and not know where to run.``


Albee, a 16-year-old, once hid under a train for five hours during a bad raid. Sneeze, a small 17-year-old, said he pulls up the seat covers in the cars and hides among the heating pipes until the police clear out.


Mack, the king, said he can hardly wait until the summer when his crew is really going to ``break out.`` As far as he and his crew are concerned,


``Graffiti`s never gonna stop.``




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