It’s not often that nine-year old Matthew Barone smiles.
Barone, of Marine Park, was born with a complex seizure disorder, a condition that has left him functioning at the level of a nine-month-old, his mother Christine said.
But when he is on a specially made swing in the park, he is awash with joy.
For thirty minutes or so, there’s no crying, no disability.
There is only the rush of going back and forth, free in the air, just like all the other kids.
“He doesn’t laugh at a lot of things. The swing is one of the few things he can do and actually relax and be like a normal kid,” she said.
But vandals in Marine Park are robbing Matthew of this one precious commodity in his life: joy.
Since April of this year, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation has been forced to replace the pricey swing eight times—and counting.
Christine suspects the vandals are teens from the neighborhood with nothing better to do.
Each time one is installed, it is set on fire or made unusable in some fashion. Burn marks in the protective matting underneath are a testament to the wanton destruction.
“They think it’s funny,” she said. “But I don’t think these kids realize it is not a victimless crime—I want to put a face on who they are hurting.”
The swing, made for people with disabilities, costs $500-$600.
Barone said Parks has been exceedingly responsive. “At one time, they said they didn’t have enough money in their budget to replace it until July. True to their word, it was replaced,” she said.
Parks spokesperson Cristina DeLuca said the agency, police, and civic leaders are trying to hatch a plan to deter the vandals.
“It’s definitely a problem,” DeLuca conceded.
Once possibility is to take the swing down during certain hours of the day or at night.
“We don’t want children to not have an accessible swing when they need it,” she said.
Asked if installing security cameras is a possibility, DeLuca said, “All options are on the table.”
At press time, the 63rd Precinct, which patrols the park, did not return a call for comment.
Greg Borruso, the president of the Marine Park Civic Association, said vandalism in the park has been a problem for years.
“They burned the nature center, they destroyed the bocce courts, they vandalized the field house,” he noted.
He said cameras could thwart vandals. “If there is this much trouble, why aren’t there cameras in the park?” he wondered.
Borruso knows the Barones from the neighborhood.
“His only way of having what everyone else has is on his own swing,” he said of Matthew.
Borruso had a pointed message for the vandals, who he said are “absolutely” neighborhood kids: Grow up.
“I hope the kids realize what they’ve done. Matthew’s only chance to have a good time in the park is on the swing—and they ruin it.”
“I just hope that they see that, step back, and say, ‘maybe we went too far,’” he added.