NYC Artist Satirizes Law Enforcement Drone Program; Gets Book Thrown At Him By NYPD

from the for-all-the-tough-talk,-the-skin-is-surprisingly-thin dept

If there's one thing authority figures hate, it's anything that goes counter to the narrative and/or puts their pet projects in an unfavorable light. A New York City artist is learning this the hard way after he and some friends took aim at the police department's drone program, plastering the city with satirical ads touting the "safety" provided by the new eyes in the sky.
On September 16, 29-year-old “Essam” and a group of friends blanketed lower Manhattan with posters designed to look like official New York Police Department signage. “Drones: Protection When You Least Expect It,” read the slogan below simple ideograms of families running from unmanned aerial vehicles. Essam and his team disguised themselves as employees of the outdoor advertising firm Van Wagner, which manages the advertising space on bus stations and kiosks throughout the city. All told, they swapped out about 100 ads.

“We see this trend throughout history of military technology always coming to the civilian world,” the Army veteran told Animal New York. He says his goal is for the conversation about domestic police use of drones “to reach a mainstream level where we are talking about this at the dinner table.”

Needless to say, the PD was highly unamused. Its "weeks-long manhunt" for the artist finally culminated in an arrest... and a handful of trumped up charges.
Essam Attia, 29, was hit with 56 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument, grand larceny possession of stolen property and weapons possession after allegedly having an unloaded .22-caliber revolver under his bed at his Manhattan apartment when he was arrested early Wednesday.

He posted bail, which was set at $10,000 bond or $2,500 cash, and is due back in Manhattan Criminal Court on Dec. 3.
Attia hoped to generate some awareness and kickstart discussion about the increasing prevalence of law enforcement drone usage. Unfortunately, it looks as though the NYPD is only interested in providing its narrative, one that is free from criticism or transparency. It also seems to be particularly bad at actual "police work." Essam signed many of the posters with his artist signature ("ESSAM") and participated in a barely-anonymous interview and yet it took a "weeks-long manhunt" to track him dow.

Calling his lookalike posters "forged" is stretching the truth to fit a hefty criminal charge, one that appears to have been levied solely out of spite. Perhaps if Essam had just placed his posters over the NYPD's, he wouldn't also be facing the grand larceny charge, but that's just quibbling over theoretical outcomes. The larger issue is the First Amendment. No one ever guaranteed free speech without consequences, but it does seem like this pursuit of an artist who honestly did nothing more than make more New Yorkers more aware of their PD's tactics has very little to do with bringing a criminal to justice, and everything to do with harshly shutting down criticism in order to deter further critiques of the NYPD. 

Filed Under: drones, free speech, nyc, nypd, protests


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  1. icon
    Ophelia Millais (profile), 6 Dec 2012 @ 12:45pm

    Re:

    Yes, you will catch flak for this.

    They are not charging him with breaking into the advert boxes and replacing the contents. They are also apparently not charging any of the people who helped him. It's not even clear how much of a role he had in the actual swapping of the signage. Instead, they've charged only him with a bizarre set of crimes which you admit are inappropriate. Yet you seem to believe it's OK to convict him of something—anything—because you don't like the fact that the advert boxes were broken into.

    What's worse, the abridgment of his free speech rights, or the injustice of a public which won't accept that he should not be punished at all if he is not found guilty, in a court of law, of the exact crimes with which he has been charged? The innocent—that is, those who haven't been found guilty in court—must go free (and ideally shouldn't be put through the wringer in the first place), even if they've actually done something wrong. It doesn't matter if it's a petty vandal or a terrorist mastermind being put on the stand.

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