Today, August 28, the New York Police Department (NYPD) arrested artist Nan Goldin outside of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office during a protest calling on the governor to establish overdose prevention centers across the state. At least one additional activist from the group was also arrested.
The protest amassed over 200 participants, chanting “Cuomo lies, people die!” as they marched. Many held signs mourning individuals who had died from an overdose. Others blocked the entrance to the governor’s office, including Goldin.
In May 2018, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio announced plans to bring safe injection sites to NYC, but the city must first gain approval from the State Department of Health, which operates under Governor Cuomo. There was a similar protest outside of the governor’s office in November of 2018. Explaining their choice to return this morning, Andres Baez, a retention adherence specialist for Housing Works, told Hyperallergic: “We will continue doing advocacy, and we will continue doing this until the governor meets our demands […] One thing this governor loves doing is delaying, delaying, delaying.”
“Since you have refused to disperse, you will be placed under arrest under the charge of disorderly conduct,” blared the NYPD speakers as activists were shepherded into a prisoner transport vehicle.
Goldin, best known for her photography, has been an outspoken drug policy advocate since 2017, when she founded PAIN Sackler to call out the art world for its close financial relationship with the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma. The group demands Purdue give at least 50% of its profits to organizations working to solve the opioid crisis, and that the Sacklers use their personal funds to do so as well.
Yesterday, NBC News reported that Purdue Pharma and members of Sackler family have offered to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits across the United States for a sum between $10 billion and $12 billion. The possible deal is currently being discussed between Purdue Pharma and 10 attorneys general and plaintiffs from the scores of cities that have sued the company. The New York Times reported that the settlement proposal involves the Sacklers relinquishing their ownership of Purdue Pharma on top of paying $3 billion of their own money towards the settlement. The settlement would include a bankruptcy filing that would turn the company into a “public beneficiary trust,” which allows profits to go to plaintiffs. Advocates from Housing Works told Hyperallergic that today’s action was independent from the news of the possible settlement.
Following the arrests, protesters gathered in close quarters, sectioned off by police barricades and chanting “We’ll be back!”
Update 8/29/19 4:54pm: A total of 13 activists, including Nan Goldin, were arrested yesterday, August 28, on charges of disorderly conduct for blocking the entrance to the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. The activists were released after being held for seven hours in jail. “[Governor Cuomo] promised our advocacy community that he would OK a pilot program for five Safe Consumption Sites [SCS] across New York after the elections last year. He has failed to act on that promise,” Megan Kapler, a member of PAIN Sackler, told Hyperallergic. “We will continue to fight for this cause in New York, and next week in Philadelphia where there is a federal case against Safehouse — a SCS that was meant to open last year as a response to Philly’s devastating Opioid crisis,” she added.