An Artist Was Aggressively Tackled and Arrested at Washington Square Park. His Offense: Displaying Art on the Ground

An Artist Was Aggressively Tackled and Arrested at Washington Square Park. His Offense: Displaying Art on the Ground

Updated again 10/10 12:55 p.m.

NYPD and PEP assault and arrest artist at park

This happened on Sunday, October 6th at the park. An artist, Oriel, was displaying his art just west of the Washington Square fountain when he was approached by Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) who wanted him to remove his art. He refused, they then moved to arrest him. He refused arrest. Three PEP tackle him for what seems like forever – video was immediately posted on YouTube – when another “White shirt” (“white shirts” are captains sergeants) moved in (a man) and accelerated the struggle, forcing him to the ground. This, by the way, is while all the time park goers are watching, filming, walking by. Eventually, the NYPD came and Oriel was arrested and taken away.

The video is very disturbing to watch and this all occurred, it appears, due to the ridiculous rule, implemented in 2018, that art and music for sale at Washington Square Park must be on a table, not on the ground.

PEP officers tackle artist

It’s additionally curious as the PEP don’t typically arrest and could have issued a summons, not that that was necessary either. When Sarah Neilson was Park Administrator, working for the New York City Parks Department which manages this park (she left in November 2016, replaced by George Vellonakis in May 2017), the most the PEP would typically do is give warnings so this demonstrates an escalation. (I always thought this reflected nicely on the park that it was not a hostile environment, it was only if someone ignored them a few times that they would issue a summons.)

WSP Blog posted the video at the blog Facebook page on Monday. Park regular Elissa Paskin wrote, “He teaches art at Brooklyn College. I got there a couple of minutes before they attacked him. It was about his art on the ground & fence. He said give me a tkt. He said he had the right to exhibit his art. And they wanted it & him removed to call the police. He wasn’t planning on leaving. Before the police arrived 3 of them attacked him stupidly & in an unprofessional manner. The cops were on their way. Once they arrived..a white shirt who i have never seen before, a big white guy decided to pepper spray him in the middle of the crowd on a breezy day. No question that the park personnel escalated this whole thing unnecessarily. Besides why can Art be displayed on the ground at Union Sq & not WSP? It was so stupid, violent, & ridiculous. The artist is a professional with 2 children. He knows his civil rights & I was told a lawyer was already detained.”

Increased Commercialization and Artists Left After Table Rule Put Into Play

The other piece of this is that the rule, only allowing artists or musicians with tables, has actually increased the commercialization at the park as vendors with products began selling increasingly around the fountain plaza and it pushed other artists out like “Mother Pigeon” Tina Piña Trachtenburg.

Since the reversal of the performance crackdown, I thought the rule was that you could only ask for donations with your display but that was wrong I discovered in 2018 when the Parks Department put the table rule into play. Some rules were ‘on the books’ but not enforced. The whole issue around “expressive matter” artists and musicians at the park has been very muddled ever since the performance crackdown.

See art on ground and fence in background

Is this the kind of park we want?

Addendum: I’ve been told that the artist had received a number of summons, not confirmed. When I went by on Tuesday, a friend of Oriel’s was setting up a table for Oriel’s art and said Oriel was on his way. I did not see him.

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Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:

Amidst Confusion, Community and Performers to City’s Parks Department: Commit in Writing — No “Performance Crackdown” at Washington Square, and all NYC Parks May 2, 2013

Washington Square Park Performers Warned “Expressive Matter” Rules Will Now be Enforced; Tickets Will be Issued May 25, 2018