Cries Of Censorship After NYPD Paints Over Controversial Mural
Was prevention of anti-police violence the reason cops painted over a new mural, or was it heavy-handed censorship? It's a question the mural's artist seeks answers to as the story of the cops' literal cover-up generates a reaction far beyond the neighborhood where it happened.

The wall where the mural had been is now a long, black expanse with specks of bright colors peeking out from behind the black cover paint. The colorful undercoat hints at what had been on the wall on the north side of 4979 Broadway.

Six foot tall red and white letters spelling out "Murderers" had filled most of the building-size artwork, which also featured -- displayed in front of those nine, large letters -- about two dozen coffins of different shapes, sizes and colors, with the names of various entities the artist felt fit the deadly description. Among the labels on the coffins were the NYPD, Monsanto, Halliburton, the EPA, TV and other corporate, government and cultural institutions.

"The NYPD has murdered people," artist Alan Ket told PIX11 News. "Ramarley Graham, that's one of them. I have a list -- Sean Bell, Amidou Diallo..."

Ket acknowledged that the mural was provocative. Every three or four months, he paints a new mural on the wall of the single-story building, which houses New Edition Dry Cleaners. Ket has had an agreement with the business's owners for the last six years to display his art on their wall.

Last Thursday, Ket painted the "Murderers" mural, but on Tuesday, plainclothes NYPD officers not only started painting over it with black paint, they began their process of black-washing by painting over the NYPD coffin.

"I feel insulted," said Ket, who lives a few blocks away from the location from which his art was removed. "How they can have the audacity and come into a community and censor art that's done by the citizens of the community?

Members of the Curet Family, who own New Edition Cleaners, told PIX11 News that the police requested the family's permission before bringing out and using the buckets of black paint.

However, Angel Curet, son of the dry cleaner's primary owner, said that the NYPD's request felt much more like a heavy-handed suggestion. "It's kind of like Russia," Curet said. "This is not America. That is how I feel."

"Nobody wants to have problems with cops," artist Ket said, offering his interpretation of how the whole thing played out. "That's jut the way it is. Who wants to have problems with the police?"

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which has had more than its fair share of legal confrontations with the NYPD, gave a heated assessment of the situation. "I'm appalled," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said to PIX11 News. "The police do not have the right to censor material they don't agree with. This is a violation of the First Amendment."

One of the entities depicted on the Wall of Murderers was TV. PIX11 News asked Ket if he still considered the medium murderous now that a television news outlet was shining a light on his situation.

"It's something to spark debate, some dialogue among young people," the artist said, only partially answering the question. "They're not watching the news. They're hanging out with their friends, but there are all these issues going around them that affect them and I want them to know what's going on."

When asked what he would like to see done next with his mural wall, Ket said, "I would like to repaint it, discussing around the topic we're talking about now, of censorship by the NYPD. But we'll see."

To start painting again, he said he was told that he now has to obtain permission from the landlord of the building that houses the New Edition Cleaners, in addition to his long-standing endorsement by the dry cleaning business's owners.

The situation was first brought to the attention of PIX11 by a resident of Inwood, who participates in the Inwood Community Group's Facebook page. Since a group member first posted about the paint-over Tuesday evening, hundreds of people, some from far outside of the Inwood community, have commented on social media sites. The overwhelming majority of the comments have been critical of the police department.

PIX11 made multiple requests to the NYPD for comment about the mural cover-up carried out by members of the 34th precinct. The police department did not respond to any written or verbal inquiries.