censorship: Demonstrators gather outside Troy City Hall
after controversial citations against the Sanctuary
for Independent Media.
Photo: Shannon DeCelle
gather in Troy as controversy mounts over suspicious shutdown
of art exhibit
artist Wafaa Bilal’s exhibit The Night of Bush Capturing:
Virtual Jihadi first lost its home on the campus of Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute due to an apparently squeamish administration
and the outcry of a minority of the college’s students. Then,
after finding refuge at the Sanctuary for Independent Media
in North Troy, the installation was ousted again, this time
under the guise of a 13-month-old code violation. The irony
that Bilal’s was the first in the Sanctuary’s series of exhibits
celebrating democracy and the freedom of speech was not lost
on hundreds of protesters who gathered Tuesday outside Troy
City Hall. The demonstrators decried the use of a code violation
to shut down events at the Sanctuary as a politically motivated
attempt by the city to shut down an art exhibit that key members
of the administration found distasteful.
Jon Christian, a math and philosophy major at RPI, was one
of the many students gathered at the protest. “I think it
is very insulting to Mr. Bilal that his artwork has been pushed
away from two different venues in the same city,” he said.
“If I were him, I certainly wouldn’t be coming back to Troy.
I think it is our job to show him that some people believe
in his right to say what he wants.”
Last week, the day after Bilal’s opening, the Sanctuary received
notice that it could no longer host assemblies until it widened
its front doors by 3 inches. No small feat, and one that will
cost the small nonprofit more than $10,000. Steve Pierce,
spokesman for the Sanctuary, however, said that they are moving
ahead with plans to fix the doors.
The day of the opening, Pierce pointed out, code officials
visited the sanctuary, and gave them the go-ahead for the
soon as we got the notice, we started to move on fixing the
doors. Which we would have done if the city had told us to
do that earlier,” he said. “Essentially, what the city is
saying is that we have known for 13 months about these violations,
and that is true.” But what they are not saying, he added,
is that the Sanctuary replied immediately to the original
months-old violations notice and presented to the city a detailed,
prioritized list of projects that would be undertaken.
don’t have a ton of money,” he said, “but we are doing it
as fast as we can. They know very well, if they read their
mail, that we have been planning to fix the doors. The implication
is that we received a code violation and ignored it, which
isn’t true.” He added that there has been no response from
the city to multiple letters from the Sanctuary. No response,
that is, until last week, the day after a protest of Bilal’s
work outside the Sanctuary, organized by none other than Troy
commissioner of public works Bob Mirch, under whose authority
the code department operates.
Many in the crowd join Pierce in finding the timing entirely
suspect. Mirch has a reputation in the city of Troy for using
the code department to exact revenge against political adversaries,
and the current violation of the Sanctuary seems to follow
Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian finds that idea absurd.
Mirch,” Tutunjian claimed, “had nothing to do with the shutting
down of the Sanctuary for Independent Media.” He said that
this was not about the art itself, but the building.
isn’t about the content,” he said. “It is about the venue.
That building wasn’t safe for a large gathering of people.
That is my only concern as mayor of the city. The liability
issues that it would have posed, to have people gather in
that building when they city knew it wasn’t up to code would
have been staggering had something happened.”
The city, he said, couldn’t face the potential lawsuits.
am concerned that code didn’t shut it down sooner,” he added.
As for the controversy surrounding the artwork, Tutunjian
is adamantly neutral. He believes in free speech, he said,
pointing to a past controversy surrounding artwork hung in
City Hall. One of the pieces was decried by many in the community
as pornographic and a call was raised to have the piece removed.
am a first-generation American,” he said. “My father is from
Syria. My grandparents escaped persecution in Armenia. To
portray me as a bigot, and that I want to limit free speech,
is wrong. I am not opposed to what they are doing tonight
or what they were doing last week.”
Troy City Councilman Ken Zalewski (D-District) was the only
elected official at the protest. He said that he is concerned
over the accusations of Mirch’s misuse of code. “I will be
speaking with my colleagues on the city council and see what
we can do as a legislative body, possibly even launching an
investigation into what is going on here. There seems to be
a pattern of selective use of code enforcement to punish political
enemies. As an elected official, representing taxpayers, we
have to make sure we are not using code enforcement for political
Nice or Play Alone
last week’s surge of violent protesting in Tibet,
the Dalai Lama is threatening to step down as
political leader. More than 80 people were said
to have been killed in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital,
during the Chinese crackdown on the demonstrations.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has been accusing the
spiritual leader of organizing the protests, though
the Dalai Lama has lashed out at these claims,
stressing that he denounces violence and answered
with a threat: “If things go out of control, then
my only option is to completely resign.” Tibet
is formally an autonomous region of China, although
the Dalai Lama has claimed that the country treats
them as “second class.”
Barack Obama campaign faced a racially charged
controversy over the past couple of weeks, after
videos of the senator’s one-time preacher, the
Rev. Jeremiah Wright, made the rounds on YouTube.
Right-wing pundits seized upon Wright’s incendiary
remarks as evidence that Obama, who attended Wright’s
sermons for two decades, might also harbor militant
views regarding the United States and its racial
history. Facing down these criticisms, Obama,
in a speech on Monday that was widely hailed for
its eloquence, addressed the complex issues surrounding
the race-based angers that still thrive in many
communities. Obama condemned many of the most
inflammatory statements by Wright, but defended
his personal relationship with him, just as he
defended his relationship with his white grandmother
who was prone to making uncomfortable comments
Than World War II
week, the United States passed the five-year mark
for its involvement in the war in Iraq. The numbers
are staggering: 4.5 million estimated Iraqis displaced;
nearly 4,000 American soldiers killed; nearly
30,000 soldiers wounded; 90,000 Iraqi civilians
killed; $3 trillion estimated spent. To mark this
unfortunate milestone, dozens of soldiers gathered
for Winter Soldier, to share, as Democracy
Now! reported, their “eyewitness accounts
of the war and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The stories of these antiwar veterans of Iraq,
DN! reported, were largely ignored by the
Council members and activists voice long-standing concerns
with the Albany Citizen’s Police Review Board
Alice Green told the Albany Citizen’s Police Review Board
last week that they have no right to act surprised that the
Albany Police Department has withheld civilian complaints
from them, despite the practice being in direct violation
of the wording and intent of the CPRB’s founding legislation,
because she has been telling them for years that a number
of citizens have been discouraged from going to the CPRB by
the APD. Staying for only a portion of the CPRB meeting, Albany
Police Chief James Tuffey announced that he had “a fix that
should work for all of us” that would make sure the CPRB is
notified of all complainants if not the details of all complaints.
Tuffey proposed that the APD provide the CPRB with the contact
information of all citizen complainants, even the ones who
do not wish for their cases to be reviewed by the board. Although
Tuffey departed before the public-comment period, a number
of Albany Common Council members and citizen activists expressed
agitation not only at the chief’s proposal but also with the
Common Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) made it clear that
he felt the chief had no standing to make changes to the structure
of reporting to the CPRB, and that it was a legislative matter.
Ellis said the board should know better than to think the
chief can make such a drastic legislative change. One of the
original authors of the legislation, Common Councilman Richard
Conti (Ward 6), agreed with Ellis.
After the chief’s comments, board chairman Jason Allen announced
changes he thought should be made to ensure that the board
functions more effectively. First on that list was the chief’s
suggestion about forwarding complainants’ contact information,
which a number of the board members seemed to be hearing for
the first time that night. Allen further suggested utilizing
video cameras in police cars. He lamented not having enough
hard evidence to go on to substantiate most cases, and suggested
cameras would go a long way to rectify the situation.
Allen then went on to admonish an anonymous member of the
board who had spoken to the Times Union. Allen drew
the ire of two Common Council members. First, Dominick Calsolaro
(Ward 1) admonished the Chairman for criticizing the anonymous
board member for speaking his mind about the board, and asserted
that any member should be able to speak about his or her concerns.
He further noted that he felt Allen had overstepped his bounds
by announcing his support of Tuffey’s proposed change without
consulting all the members of the board.
Ellis, citing Allen’s complaints about a lack of “real evidence,”
demanded of Allen, “Do you support subpoena powers for the
board?” Allen indicated that he did not. A visibly frustrated
Ellis wondered aloud how the board expected to secure evidence
without investigatory or subpoena powers. Later in the meeting,
Allen recanted his statement. However, a number of other board
members began indicating that they would love to be granted
more power, and they invited council members to make the needed
changes. Calsolaro and Ellis both discussed the idea of creating
a board with independent investigative power. Conti made it
clear that it was time to review how effective the board can
be in its current condition.
Green said that she is no longer sure there is anything in
the board worth saving. “It’s not really a citizen’s board;
it’s like a police board now. It’s come to that. Those of
us who were hesitant about the board at first went forward
with the understanding that it was going to be a work in progress.
That is what we called it at the time. The first year we laid
out key things that should happen, as the board was going
to become a functioning review board. We talked about the
power to investigate, mediation, all those things, and we
haven’t gotten anywhere.”
Furthermore, Green said that the CPRB has simply become controlled
by the APD thanks to a rotating cast of board members who
are not familiar with the history of the board and who are
spoon fed cases the chief wants them to see.
police department sees the board as their tool,” said Green.
“If the police chief can decide what complaints are and when
they get them, who can complain, whether there is standing
to bring a complaint then everything he is doing is chipping
away at the extent of what the board can do.”
Meanwhile, Mark Mishler, an attorney who was involved in the
creation of the review board, told the board that he is representing
a client who has alleged brutality by the APD, and who has
signed a statement specifically stating that he did not want
his case before the CPRB. Mishler doubts that his client came
up with adding that phrase to his statement on his own.
hard for me to imagine that anybody goes to internal affairs
with the intention of giving information to the Albany Police
Department,” he said, “and already has it in their head they
don’t want the complaint turned over to the review board.”
Currently, Mishler, Green, Ellis, and Calsolaro seem to be
headed toward the same conclusion: The CPRB has become a farce,
and they would like to see a new body with independent investigatory
powers take its place. Said Green, “I don’t see how to save
the board, and we’ve basically come to the conclusion it should
loose ends this week-