Monument tagged with gang graffiti 4-26-07

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - Gang tags were spray-painted on at least eight large basalt boulders at the edge of the Petroglyph National Monument, but none of the ancient petroglyphs was damaged, the monument's superintendent says.

The silver metallic paint had been removed from most of the boulders at the top of a ridge by Wednesday, and monument Superintendent Joseph Sanchez said the cleanup should be completed by Thursday at the latest.

“We're sending a message that we're out there watching, and that such vandalism won't be tolerated and will be dealt with immediately,” he said.

Petroglyph officials had no immediate estimate of the cost of cleaning the damage.

Sanchez said it can be costly because the biodegradable cleaning process must not harm lichens or other native vegetation. It also must be mindful of the spiritual nature of the land, as some American Indian tribes consider the area sacred, he said.

The 7,200-acre monument was established in 1990 to protect more than 15,000 ancient rock etchings, largely done by Indians in the volcanic rocks. Some were made by ancestors of today's Pueblo Indians and date from A.D. 1300 to 1600. Others were carved by hunter-gatherer people who left little other evidence of their lives 5,000 years ago.

Since the monument is federal property, the vandals - if caught - could be charged under the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

Mayor Martin Chavez said the vandals also could face state and civil charges.

“I think it is just miscreants who lack any culture,” Chavez said when asked if he thought the graffiti was gang-related. “We just want to take whoever did this down.”

Matthew Fuller, police chief at the monument, said residents of a nearby subdivision began reporting the damage late last week. It's unclear when the boulders were sprayed.

“Our neighbors of the park are very vigilant and very caring,” Fuller said.

Tags on the rocks read “TSK,” short for Too Sick Krew, an offshoot of another gang. They have been embroiled in a four-year war with rival gang TCK, or Thugs Causing Kaos, that has been blamed for homicides, drugs and stolen vehicles.

The Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department launched a multiagency sweep April 12, arresting two TCK members in separate gang-related homicides. Last weekend, Mayor Martin Chavez announced Albuquerque police also were stepping up anti-gang efforts.