On Tuesday morning civil rights lawyer Ronald Kuby and NYC Park Advocates president Geoffrey Croft held a press conference in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park demanding the return of the sculpture bust of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden that three artists illegally installed there last week. The sculpture is currently being held by the New York Police Department’s 88th Precinct in Clinton Hill, according to Kuby.
“The police, simply stated, have no right to keep the statue,” Kuby said, explaining that the only charge that could be pressed against the artists is a misdemeanor trespassing violation for being in a park after it closed. The attorney has submitted a letter to NYPD commissioner William Bratton and the 88th precinct’s property clerk on behalf of the artists, explaining: “Even if the NYPD could delay the return of this sculpture to its owners, it has no basis, save an improper, censorious one, in preventing the display of this artwork.”
Once returned, the artists plan to submit the sculpture, officially titled “Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument 2.0” (2015) — in homage to the nearby monument to Revolutionary War prisoners who died on British prison ships moored in Wallabout Bay — to the New York City Parks Department’s Art in the Parks program. In the meantime, assuming the artists can retrieve the artwork in time, they plan to show it with Postmasters Gallery at the Boiler, Pierogi Gallery‘s warehouse space in North Williamsburg, as part of a surveillance-themed exhibition opening May 10. The artists have even planned to make a plaque that reads “On Loan from the NYPD Property Clerk” to accompany the sculpture if and when it goes on view.
In a statement distributed at the press conference, the artists said:
Significant time, artistry, and financial resources were poured into this statue to create a piece worthy of public display. As the artists behind this work, we hope New York City will release the statue so it may continue to spark healthy conversation about issues essential to our freedoms. […] By releasing our sculpture the NYPD has an amazing opportunity to show it protects not only its people, but also honors the city’s long history as a benchmark for creative expression and free thinking.
However, getting a confiscated artwork back from the NYPD can be a long process, as the case of Banksy illustrates. After the police seized the last artwork from the artist’s October 2013 New York City “residency” — a set of balloon letters spelling his name — Newsweek dutifully explained the series of bureaucratic hoops through which Banksy would need to jump if he wanted to retrieve his balloons.
The NYPD’s Property Clerk Division’s website explains that if the Snowden bust is still being treated as evidence, “the claimant must, when the District Attorney no longer needs the property, obtain and submit to the Police Department a District Attorney’s release.” If it is not being held as evidence, as Kuby claims, the artists will still need a Property Voucher, Certificate of Title, identification, and a release from the District Attorney or supervising District Attorney. The Property Clerk website cryptically adds: “It is important that the demand be made for this property before 120 days from the day it is vouchered, or the property may be disposed of by the Police Department Property Clerk according to law.”
Should the Snowden sculpture be released by the NYPD and the artists’ proposal accepted by the Parks Department’s Art in the Park program, I can think of a few better locations than Fort Greene Park for an homage to the NSA whistleblower. Why not in Lower Manhattan’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza, which is adjacent to the American Civil Liberty Union’s New York City offices? Or Ralph Bunche Park, the small park across First Avenue from the United Nations? Or, better still, James Madison Plaza, the triangular park catty-corner from One Police Plaza, the NYPD’s headquarters?
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