Shamokin police lock up playground because of 'deliberate destruction' and defiance
SHAMOKIN - The scrawlings in black marker on the colorful playset at Shamokin Street playground tell of young love, of lewd behavior, of bad jokes and of phone numbers offering "a good time."
World renowned street artist Banksy has created a stir in New York City when the Brit crossed the Atlantic to tag buildings in the Big Apple earlier this month. Some of his prior work has fetched more than $1 million.
The juvenile nonsense left behind on the Shamokin Street playground sliding board won't bring the vandals any money. They won't bring fame. They did bring a padlock.
The playground is locked up and shut down indefinitely. So are the neighboring basketball and street hockey hard courts. Closed for fall. Closed for winter. Police Chief Ed Griffiths said the lock won't come off until spring.
It isn't just the playset graffiti that upset the police chief, it's the behavior and attitude of some kids and teens and a few young adults.
No respect, no recreation
The chief said a 90-year-old woman walking home carrying groceries was harassed. Rocks were tossed at the Stephen A. Chowka Funeral Home across the street. Teens are smoking inside the playset. Fistfights were a regular occurrence. Profanity became the norm. Well-mannered parents and their tots stayed away.
Lately when police officers responded, they were met with defiance.
"There's just a lack of respect," Griffiths said. "Well, guess what? It's locked."
"The city's providing a place for them. Take care of it. Don't tell me you have nothing to do when you do have a place and you're destroying it," he said.
Griffiths echoed comments he made during a city council meeting Monday: "That playground's a privilege. It's not a right. When they learn how to act, we'll open it."
A skate park near the city pool on Rock Street once met a similar fate. It never reopened. It's gone for good.
Griffiths hopes that by locking the playground at least a little while, it won't meet a similar fate.
"It's not fair to the neighbors. We're not going to lose this town one playground at a time," he said.
Vandalism at the Shamokin Street playground is nothing new.
City officials have been dealing with it for years. Kevin Richardson, public works foreman, recalled an employee using graffiti cleaner on the playset before. They had to patch a few holes. A corkscrew sliding board was permanently removed after someone defecated on it.
Richardson pointed out some other damage inflicted at the site over the years. Two swingset chains were broken. A toddler swing seat was knifed apart. No less than 10 holes were cut into the chain link fence. A gate was knocked off its hinge. A memorial sign was sheared off at its base. Caps on a retaining wall are pulled off. Mulch has been set on fire.
Two times each week for between 20 and 30 minutes a pair of street department employees would pick up litter in the playground.
There's a bit of vandalism at every city playground, Richardson said, but nothing like at Shamokin Street. This isn't wear-and-tear, he said, it's "deliberate destruction."
"People are afraid to come here with little kids," he said.
The playground was being locked at dusk. It was closed at 7 p.m. last year in an attempt to reign in bad behavior. Anyone caught inside the fences while it's closed will be prosecuted, Griffiths said.
Councilman Bill Milbrand, in charge of parks and public buildings, called it a "crying shame."
"I wish I had a figure on all the playground equipment that was destroyed by vandalism over the years. We try to make it nice for the kids, but they just don't respect it," he said.
Those who regularly hang out at the playground know who's at fault, Milbrand said. He encouraged anyone with information to come forward and tell the police.