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

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

  1. Thank you for following up on this, Cathryn. This is such a flagrant abuse of power, I’m sure attorney Norman Siegel would be interested in assisting Oriel, the artist.

    Who needs art when companies have mass-produced garbage to sell us!

    Mitchel Cohen
    Brooklyn Greens/Green Party

    • The best of my collection is from street artists in NY. Senseless. Washington Park needs a commemorative Banksy. Why are those we entrust with authority consistently destructive? Was that civil? Suppose that was Picasso? Shameful. JB – Dallas

  2. I’m not from New York but have been visiting since the ’70s. This is not the New York I want or remember in many ways and this is just another example of why many will eventually leave for other areas.

    • Hi Willie, I hear you and agree. There has to be another way. Thank you again for tipping me off to the YouTube video and writing in out of your concern.


    • Hello Willie,
      I am one of those who left 31 years ago. But the fiasco above is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. Starting in the late 1950’s I used to go and sing at Washington Square Park every Sunday. One day in the 1960’s A young man came walking his pet squirrel. Somehow it slipped out of it’s leash, and, of course, went up a tree. The young man climbed the tree to try and get him. Along came a cop and told him it was against the law to climb trees in the park, and for him to come down. The boy explained he was trying to get his pet squirrel. The cop thought he was ‘ putting him on,’ and insisted he come down. The boy wouldn’t, saying the squirrel was tame and would probably die if he didn’t catch him and bring him home.The cop would have none of it. My wife and I and many others were witness to this, right from the start. We all knew the boy was telling the truth. I think we tried to tell the cop. He would not relent. He got the fire department with their ladders, and this blew up to an out and out riot, caused by the dim-witted police ( who to be fair, were under pressure, of the general public before this happened). The police caused benches with women and their babies to be knocked over. T he handle on my guitar case was broken, so I had it under my arm and my other around my wife, as we tried to get away from the mob. So, with my Mom, my wife and I left for West Virginia. I re-invented myself, and am now the oldest active member of The Original Wheeling Jamboree U.S.A. If you have a computer you can get my radio show, every Saturday from 9:00 to 10:00am over the internet WWOVFM.COM. Most of my shows can be heard by googling up Internet Archives then search Yodeling Dick Brooks. (Yodeling Dick Brooks-aka:Richard Bruce Morriale)

      • Yes, I am sure such abuse by police is not new to any of us who frequent or live in the city or any big cities for that matter. I have seen a lot of police abuse from my days marching in the ’60s in the Bay Area. The thing is, I am seeing this type of abuse to artists and musicians more and more in various cities. I hope it’s not truly an increase in such abuse and maybe just that the word gets our faster. Still, the abuse is, as I am sure you would agree, unnecessary. Thanks for the story.

    • Indeed! I can’t take my kids to the (fake) grassy mound play area or the playground on the north west side without running a gauntlet of junkies and dealers . Let’s fix the real problems in the park rather than picking on gentle people that bend obscure rules. Why can’t parents unite? I’m just a local mom, not a privileged patron.

  3. I blame John Leguizamo’s wife and her cohorts trying to luxufy and privatize a public park to soothe the needs of The Real Housewives of the Greenwich and West Village.

    • Hi QU, I really appreciate this comment — The Real Housewives of the Greenwich and West Village! So true re: trying to luxufy and privatize!! Thank you for framing it so well.


  4. This was not the first time this sort of thing has happened at that park. I used to sing there every Sunday from the late 1950’s through to about 1969. One Day in the 1960,s, My wife and I, and many others saw this boy come walking along with a squirrel on a leash. Somehow it slipped out of it’s collar, and went up a tree. The boy climbed up after it. A cop came along, and called up to the boy, telling him it was against the law to climb trees in the park, and to come down. The boy said he was trying to get his pet squirrel. The cop, of course, thought he was just trying to be funny, and told him to cone down. The boy tried to explain that the squirrel was tame, and been with him all it’s life, and that it would probably die out here if he did not catch it and bring it home. The cop would have none of it, and again told him he must come down. The boy wouldn’t. The cop was in a spot. We were all against him. How could he save face? He called the fire department, with their ladders. They came. The boy climbed higher. The crowd was increasing. I seem to recall they finally got him down (without the squirrel) Then I remember the police in force trying to get everyone out of the park. They caused Benches with mothers and their babies to be knocked over. The handle on my guitar case broke. So with it under one arm and my other around my wife, we tried to get away from the mob. In all fairness I should mention that the police were already under pressure from the general public at that time. But that’s no excuse for acting so stupidly. To ad a little note. Shortly after this the patrolman were instructed to be more friendly towards Hippies. Somewhere around that time, I thought I would try Central Park for a change. So at a fountain where others had gathered to sing and play, I had finished singing an original from an LP we had made, called ‘Black Is Beautiful.’ A young policeman approached me, and spoke in hushed tones, saying ‘they’ (people of color) were not the same as us. I could have given him a piece of my mind. But I’m sure it would have fell on deaf ears. It was all in my song, and he didn’t hear a word of it. Except maybe for ‘black.’ Well being a policeman is a tough job. And it’s hard to get intelligent, qualified people to join up. Well, that’s the end of my story, except maybe to say that in 1988 we left our apartment in Glendale Queens, along with my Mom, and moved to West Virginia, where I re-invented myself, and am now the oldest active performer of the Original, Jamboree,U,S.A. 2nd only to the grand old Opry, as the 2nd oldest radio show in the world? You can hear my radio show every Saturday morning from 9:00 to 10:00 am, on the internet at WWOVFM.COM (click ‘listen live.’) If that’s too early for you, most of my shows can be heard on the’net.’ Google up Internet Archive then search Yodeling Dick Brooks. It looks endless. When I learn how to do it, I will put some videos on youtube. (‘so long’ for now, your radio pal, Yodeling Dick brooks;aka: Richard Bruce Morriale )

  5. Hi Dick, Amazing that you were there. I heard about this squirrel incident and planned to write about it. I will add in your experience. As I mentioned on Facebook, I always wondered what happened to the squirrel. This was covered in the New York Times at the time, but no mention of his (or her) fate was included. I know you said you don’t think the boy got the squirrel back.

    Thanks so much for your recollections.


  6. The best work in my collection comes from street artists in NY. Why are the people we entrust with authority so often destructive? The park needs a commemorative Banksy. Did the artist really deserved the choke hold? Is this what we pay the people for? jb – Dallas


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