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Activist and Mother Calls Vandalism of Tot Lot 'Stupid'

Sept. 17, 2005—"We need a stronger police presence on the north side of St. Thomas," Ann Durante-Arnold said Saturday morning after entering the Dorothea Tot Lot and finding part of the grounds damaged by acts of vandalism.
Durante-Arnold had brought her daughter Rocchina, along with three friends to the playground to celebrate Rocchina's eighth birthday. However, instead of a clean, kid-friendly space, Durante-Arnold found two signs damaged, and a wall tagged with graffiti.
"The police can help us monitor what's going on around here. There's a lot of graffiti popping up in this area—on signs, buses, dumpsters. But this is used to be a safe space, and when things like this happen, we don't feel safe anymore."
Also president of the Northside Civic Organization, Durante-Arnold explained that the parents of children in the area had put quite a bit of time, hard work, and money to get tot lot restored, bringing the park up to date with new equipment, trash receptacles, and sitting areas (see "Tot Lot Renovation Kicks Off Saturday"). When incidents like this happen, Durante-Arnold said that the parents would have to spend more money to fix whatever has been destroyed.
"That's something that we can't afford. And if things like this keep happening, we won't be able to keep the park open anymore—that's really sad."
Durante-Arnold added her daughter and friends were also shocked at the park's state of the affairs. "This is a place for little kids—they don't need to see this. It's ridiculous, and I'm outraged."
Not the first incident of its kind at the tot lot, Durante-Arnold said a gate had been installed at the park's entrance to prevent such incidents. "Prior to the gate being there, we had a problem with older kids coming into the park at night, partying, and playing their loud music so that it would disturb the neighbors. So we had the gate installed."
But, since Durante-Arnold isn't able to come lock the gate every night, other problems have occurred. Other than Saturday's graffiti, the fence surrounding the park has been sliced open so people can get in when no one else is there. One of the signs found damaged on Saturday has also been replaced more than once because of vandalism.
However, while Durante-Arnold says she has thought about installing a security camera, the cost of such an action is too prohibitive.
"We have been trying to get a bathroom installed here for a long time," Durante-Arnold said. "But if we have to pay for a security camera, or some one to come lock up all time, we won't be able to get that accomplished."
Durante-Arnold added that she has been coming to the park with her children for the past 17 years, and it has become an important spot for her family—as well as many others. "A lot of people's hearts went into building this place. For someone just to come in here and ruin that for us is just unbelievable."
Durante-Arnold had called 911 after discovering the crime and was told she would have to come into the police station to file a report. She said she plans to do that Monday.
Once she does, Deputy Police Chief Elvin Fahie, contacted Saturday evening, said the police can help.
Fahie also said if an arrest were to be made the perpetrator could be pursued to make financial restitution for the damage, either through the Justice Department or Small Claims Court.
"That person is just a real jerk," Pai Garcia, 8, said of the unknown vandal. Once Durante-Arnold had finished speaking, the four young girls accompanying her got together to brainstorm solutions.
"I think that whoever did this should be found, then made to repaint the wall and fix the signs," Louisa Fredey, 9, said. "They should also pay for all the damages."
While Durant-Arnold said she wishes the vandal would be caught, she once again advocated increased police presence in the area. "I need people to be as outraged as I am that this is happening," Durante-Arnold said. "What's going on here is just stupid."

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