Plainclothes officers painting over the "Murderers" mural

A plainclothes officer painting over the “Murderers” mural (image via Facebook/Shannon Park)

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.”

"Murderers" mural

Alan Ket, Noxer and Tres’s “Murderers” mural, before it was painted over by the NYPD (image via, click to enlarge)

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.”

Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

13 replies on “NYPD Can’t Take Criticism, Censors Legal Mural”

  1. This is the best of the stories regarding this issue I’ve read all day. However, the business owner does not own the wall, she rents the commercial space. So the landlord to which Ket refers is the building owner and a different person then Curet, the business owner.

      1. I live in the building and am a broker who works with the landlord. I am also a customer of New Edition cleaners and absolutely love their service and friendly atmosphere. Not to mention both the landlord and the business owner’s love for the arts and community as a whole. And Ket has been painting murals on that wall for more than four years without incident until know. Ket is also a community member, aka Inwoodite. So yes, I know who “that” is.

          1. Of course, I’m sorry that I didn’t understand. I thought you were checking to see if I was legit. AWKWARD!

  2. Great report!

    It’s a reminder to think about what defines a public space. Is it simply “anything that the public can see” or is it “whatever is owned by the city/state/nation”?

    And even if a space is public, what’s the ground for censorship?

    Doesn’t seem like there is an easy answer to either question.

  3. Um and the artscene doesnt? seems MoCA quickly painted over Blu’s mural of caskets a year or so ago, and I have been banned in LA(though I havent tried ina few years, its jsut too damn stupid), and lost a show at LA Artcore for blogging my disgust with the current state of contempt art. The Museo/Academic/Gallery complex of business is far too corrupt to reform, it must be destroyed, as the post Impressionists started, and WWII finished off. Only to rise again like the money sucking vampire it is by 1960.
    The stake of Modernnism going back to Our human roots, of Primary functions of art, is still here, and growing.
    Your days are numbered, jump off the Concorde, and get on the bus.

  4. Interesting article. It seems tht the legalities can be sorted through and the NYPD confronted with the facts. It’s either legal or not to paint on there. Period. No?

    1. From what I understand, it is legal to paint there, but it’s not that simple. The NYPD was pissed about the mural, so they sent some officers, intimidated the landlord and/or business owner into agreeing to remove it, and then instead of waiting for the artist to do it himself, painted over it. It sounds to me like they did have some sort of permission to remove the mural, but the issue is how they obtained that permission.

  5. Good work Ket, big growth and strength to you and your team. The Nypd are the disgusting mob in town. I’m just waiting for the revolt, to say the least…. I was never a RIS fan, but this kinda thing won me over….Rip many street soldiers… many to type….

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