A street artist who hung satirical posters criticising police surveillance activities has been arrested after an NYPD investigation tracked him to his doorstep. With the help of a small crew, the artist now identified as Essam Attia had placed the fake Big Brother-style adverts in locations throughout Manhattan, using a fake Van Wagner maintenance van and uniforms to avoid detection.
In a video interview with Animal New York prior to his arrest, a voice-scrambled and silhouetted Attia explained that he placed the provocative ads to “create a conversation” about disturbing trends in police surveillance, alluding to recent efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to “facilitate and accelerate the adoption” of unmanned aerial drones by local police departments. The posters also followed recent expansions in NYPD surveillance powers which allow officers to monitor citizens by creating fake identities on social networking sites.
The NYPD’s response seems to have proven Attia’s point: months after forensics teams and a “counter-terrorism” unit was spotted on the scene, the NYPD last Wednesday successfully tracked down and arrested the 29-year-old art school vandal, who identified himself in the video as a former “geo-spatial analyst” serving US military operations in Iraq.
It’s not the first time the NYPD has overreacted to unsanctioned public art. Earlier this year, the department arrested 50-year-old Takeshi Miyakawa after he illuminated the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn with harmless LED lanterns made from plastic “I Heart NY” shopping bags. The crackdown in Attia’s case, however, seems to have more to do with the public embarrassment faced by the department as a result of the mock ads.
Attia now faces 56 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument and grand larceny possession of stolen property for his spree last September, with an additional charge of weapons possession after officers allegedly found an unloaded .22 caliber revolver under his bed during the raid. As for the drones themselves, the NYPD has still not revealed any plans to use aerial robotic enforcers. But if the expanding list of FAA authorizations and documented use of drones by local police in Texas and Miami, Floridaare any indication, it may be only a matter of time.
They dispatched more officers to Pakistani neighborhoods and, according to one former police official directly involved in the effort, instructed them to look for reasons to stop cars: speeding, broken tail lights, running stop signs, whatever. The traffic stop gave police an opportunity to search for outstanding warrants or look for suspicious behavior. An arrest could be the leverage the police needed to persuade someone to become an informant.