Proving that art does still have the power to be controversial, and that the New York Police Department pretty much does whatever it wants, the NYPD dispatched two officers on Tuesday to paint over a mural that it didn’t like. The mural, on the side of a dry cleaners in an alley in Inwood, was the work of graffiti artist Alan Ket, who had painted it with fellow writers Noxer and Tres five days before the police destroyed it. Titled “Murderers,” the piece featured that word spelled out in large block letters with bullet holes and a series of gravestones underneath and around it. The headstones were for an eclectic group of organizations, companies and entities, including Bank of America, Haliburton, TV, AIDS, the War on Drugs … and the NYPD.
The department was apparently not happy about its inclusion in such company.
Ket had permission from the owner of the wall, Marina Curet of New Edition Cleaners, to paint the work; Curet has been inviting artists to paint there for four years, without any previous issues, and Ket had done so before. He explained in a blog post yesterday:
Every year or so … I decided to turn it into more of a protest wall and collaborate with friends to share a message that I feel is pertinent and that the community should think about. In the past they have mostly been focused on the wars that the US has been involved in but this time I wanted to point out that the war isn’t always abroad but its also actually here.
Hyperallergic spoke with Ket, who told us that the police actually showed up at New Edition on Monday to say that they wanted the mural removed. “I have a good relationship with the business owner, and she called me and let me know,” he said. “I told her that if she wanted it removed because of problems with the police, I would do it sometime later in the week. But the police were impatient, and they didn’t want to wait, so they sent two officers down and did it themselves.”
Curet was apparently intimidated by the officers, who were dressed in plainclothes and told her the message of the mural was a “bad idea.” DNAinfo writes:
“I can’t confront them, because I don’t want problems,” New Edition Cleaners owner Marina Curet, who has owned the business for five years, said in Spanish. “There is no freedom of expression.
“It’s a bomb, and now here I am in the middle of a bomb.”
Ket added Curet’s situation has affected his response, as least for now:
I would gladly paint another mural tomorrow, even more forceful than this last one, but I’m going to wait. The landlord feels very intimidated by the police and does not want any art on the walls now. So I’m dealing with some individuals that are challenged to continue to support this art because of the police’s tough stance. It’s sad when people can be bulled into doing what the police want.
The NYPD apparently offered the excuse that local residents had complained about the mural’s “violent” message; however, according to DNAinfo’s report and comments on Facebook, most residents seem much more concerned about the censorship. That isn’t entirely surprising, since Ket himself is an Inwood resident, having lived in the neighborhood for 10 years. He spoke about the censorship in part as a community issue:
I think that it’s good, actually, to know where the police stand in our community, that this is the type of people we’re dealing with that are civil servants in our neighborhoods. Something like this can help them show us their true colors. On the other hand, it shows a lack of respect on their part towards art, towards freedom of expression, towards the community. And it shows their cowardice in dealing with tough issues.
Ket said he’s planning to keep spreading the word, with “more murals, more protests, more direct action” in response. “We’ll bring it up at our community meeting, our police meeting here next month, and bring them to task,” he said.
“Hopefully they’ll see the error in their ways,” he added, “and maybe they’ll even reimburse me for my materials.”