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Monday, May 21, 2012

Arrested for Art Installation

I had plans this morning of writing about a different topic, but as usual, before I begin my writing, I peruse the online NYTimes for any interesting articles that might catch my eye.  Well, if you couldn't guess by now, an article did catch my eye and what normally I would have delayed writing about for a day or two, I feel I can't put off and will instead write about today.   The article talks about an artist that was arrested early Saturday morning for installing art around Brooklyn.  Supposedly, a witness saw a suspicious package hanging from a tree and called the police about it.  The "suspicious package" was a hanging plastic bag embossed with the "I Love New York"  logo that Takeshi Miyakawa  was hanging on light posts, trees, and other tall objects.  The hanging bag contained an LED with a battery inside connected to a plastic box that was attached to the tree.  The bags that Miyakawa was hanging were timed to light up with the start of a design festival, a positive tribute to NY according to people who know the artist.   It was supposed to be a surprise, but evidently, it was more of a surprise to the artist than to anyone else as he was arrested for his efforts.   The arrest came because the bags and plastic boxes looked like fake bombs and as a result, he was charged with reckless endangerment and placing a "fake bomb or other hazardous substance".   I can understand the authorities concern, to an extent, but I think that they went a little too far with the arrest and subsequent charges that accompanied it.  Just because someone called in a suspicious package doesn't necessarily to me mean that he should be arrested.  (Full article from NYTimes linked here)

Now, before I get lambasted for supporting artists and not taking into consideration the "safety" of the general populace, I will say that he should have notified authorities about his efforts and his plans for the art installation.  Granted, he wanted it to be a surprise, but he probably wouldn't have been arrested if he had simply told the police about it.  As it is now, he is being held until a psychological evaluation can be performed on him.  Beyond his lack of notification of authorities, I feel that he did nothing that warranted an arrest.  People have become so ingrained with the message "If you see something, say something" (the attempt by Homeland Security to get people to call in "suspicious packages and objects") that anything out of the ordinary can be and often is, called in to the police.  We have become ingrained with an automatic sense of fear when it comes to anything out of the ordinary.  Now, if someone forgets their briefcase or bag somewhere, it has the potential to bring out the bomb squad to take care of it.  If someone looks like they don't belong in a certain area, people can call him in just because he doesn't belong.  The same goes with this artist.  Someone saw a bag hanging from a tree (a very awkward place for a bomb in my mind) and perhaps considered that someone was trying to blow up a tree.  I know, I am downplaying the supposed severity of the situation, but don't you think that once the police showed up and found Miyakawa working on his art installation they could have asked him what he was doing and did a little investigation on their own?  Or is that to much to ask the police to actually investigate what is going on before arresting someone for "reckless endangerment and placing a fake bomb."  To me, this just flies right in the face of reason, slaps it around a little bit, and does nothing to increase people's sense of security. 

While I have a problem with the arrest of the artist, I have a bigger problem with this paranoia that we have been inculcated with.  Do we need to be vigilant?  Absolutely, but how far is to far when it comes to vigilance.  Is it too far when we start impeding upon the way of life of an individual such as Miyakawa?  Or is it simply keeping the general population "safe"?  In this case, there was no danger at all to anyone, yet he is still being held and is being put through a psychological evaluation.  If there was ever evidence that the NY police force has turned their city into a "police state", one need go no farther than this story.  If an arrest was warranted, which they felt was needed in this case, than arrest the man, see what he was up to, and let him go.  Don't hold him on bogus charges and then put him through a psychological evaluation.  That is going far and beyond what is due and diligent.  Yet, if you look back through history, artists have often been persecuted for their creativity, mostly because others didn't understand it at the time or feared that it would upend their view of the way things are.  Just because the police didn't understand Miyakawa's efforts this past weekend, doesn't mean they should have gone to the lengths they went to.  As I said before, this probably all could have been averted if Miyakawa told the authorities.  Yet, on the flip side, he wanted it to be a surprise and obviously telling the authorities would have negated the surprise somewhat.  In any case, my plea here is to not let the paranoia that is slowly infiltrating our society grab hold of you.  Live your life and let others live theirs. 

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