NYPD cannot be allowed to censor lawful speech. I support artist @alanket, even if he offends people.
This black wall decorates the entrance to Manhattan’s Isham Park courtesy of the New York City Police Department, which decided its officers’ roles include art critic and painter.
Being a police officer anywhere has got to be one of the most challenging jobs, and I have great respect and admiration for women and men who work hard every day to keep us safe and serve our communities. However, I am deeply concerned that police officers infringing on First Amendment rights has become commonplace. From blocking legitimate news cameras from documenting police activity around Occupy Wall Street to arrests or detention of journalists doing their jobs in accordance with all applicable rules, the past 12 months or so have been frightening for thosewho care about free speech. (For more, visit the website of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press at http://www.rcfp.org/.)
Now, the assault on the First Amendment has come to my neighborhood. For the past four years, local artist Alan Ket has painted murals on the side of a dry cleaning store at the entrance to Isham Park on Broadway in Inwood (upper Manhattan.) He has done this with the permission. But Ket never expected the response he got after painting a mural last week associating the police and large corporations like Monsanto with deaths of innocent people. Two police officers, apparently on duty, showed up and painted over the mural with black paint.
Is the mural offensive? To some people, absolutely. I disagree with its message. But I absolutely support Mr. Ket’s right to share his point of view in legal, non-violent ways like this. (The image above is from Ket’s website.)
No court order (that we know of) and no legal justification that I can come up with. A local website says the police claimed the authority to do this based on the “broken window’ policy — meaning that the police can fix or cover up a broken window to prevent further damage to a building or reduce hazards. Sorry, I do not see a connection between protecting a building from the elements or intruders and deliberately stopping someone from making their political comment — no matter how offensive it may be.
(Ket is well known for being a major graffiti vandal in the New York area before 1994. And, he has been credited as an influential artist worldwide.)
To his credit, Ket remains calm. He was surprised by the paint squad, especially because other officers had talked to him while he was painting the mural the day before — and verified that he had permission to paint the wall, according to Ket. In a brief interview with me at the site of the mural, Ket said maybe the police department’s clumsy reaction to his message will prompt both police and community members to start talking to each other and address their issues once and for all.
I hope he’s right.
Here’s a clip from my interview with Ket: