Drone Poster Artist Arrested, NYPD Does Not Find Satire Amusing

It's good to know the New York Police Department can take a little good-natured ribbing about hypothetical future policing tactics.

Just kidding. The guy who made these posters...

...has been the subject of a weeks-long manhunt and has now been arrested. Obviously:

Essam Attia, 29, was hit with 56 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument, grand larceny possession of stolen property and weapons possession after allegedly having an unloaded .22-caliber revolver under his bed at his Manhattan apartment when he was arrested early Wednesday.

Authorities said Attia planted dozens of ads in display cases around the city between Sept. 14 and 16. Many of them even used his artist signature, “ESSAM.”...

Despite his efforts to remain anonymous, the [semi-anonymous Animal New York interview he gave after putting up the posters] and other evidence led investigators in the Manhattan District Attorney's office and the NYPD to identify the alleged prankster as a local artist, sources said...

He posted bail, which was set at $10,000 bond or $2,500 cash, and is due back in Manhattan Criminal Court on Dec. 3.

The posters were designed to foster conversation about the domestic use of drones by law enforcement. Instead, it looks like we will be having the same old conversation about the limits of free speech.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Sevo||

    "foster conservation"
    I see what you did there...
    (that spell-check makes sure every wrong word is spelled right)

  • ||

    You're not allowed to have an unloaded revolver under your bed?

  • R C Dean||

    Not in NYC.

  • WTF||

    And if he wants to argue the Second Amendment in court, he will be informed by the judge that 'the Second Amendment id not available to you as a defense'.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Especially not one with the serial number drilled out that you've probably never seen before and could have come from anywhere.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...after allegedly having an unloaded .22-caliber revolver under his bed at his Manhattan apartment when he was arrested early Wednesday.

    The entire NYPD had to run to their bunk after that little find.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    Good thing the guy didn't have a dog.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Well, I mean look. This is all just coincidence. Just like the Innocence of Muslims guy, this guy was arrested totally for crimes that had nothing to do with his free speech.

    I mean, I'm sure the NYPD has better things to do than go after guys just because they put up satirical posters. Just unfortunate that this guy who puts up some thought-provoking posters is also a dangerous thief who keeps unregistered firearms. A shame, really, but totally unrelated to his posters.

  • Rasilio||

    Actually this is not a free speech issue.

    I don't agree with the specific charges brought against him, I mean what the hell is "criminal possession of a forged instrument"? I'm guessing it is because he had a fake key for the ad boxes maybe?

    But still, he was not arrested for the content of his speech, or even for speaking. He was essentially arrested becasue he stole the ads currently in those boxes and replaced them with his own. Compounding this was the fact that the owners of those prior ads paid for the right to have them be displayed during that time.

    While this case does involve political speech and a form of civil disobiedance there is little argument that he should be facing some form of criminal prosecution as a result of his actions.

  • sarcasmic||

    He was hunted down for mocking the police, and arrested for his three felonies a day.

  • nicole||

    Exactly.

  • dspDrew||

    Precisely.

  • R C Dean||

    But still, he was not arrested for the content of his speech, or even for speaking.

    Would the police have gone after him this hard if he hadn't yanked their chain? Maybe, but I doubt it.

    I tend to tink this is punishment for the content of his speech, wrapped up in a thick, sticky layer of pretexts that just happen to carry many, many years in prison.

  • SugarFree||

    The NYPD Counter-Terrorism Unit was hunting for him. Don't they normally go after theft-of-services cases?

  • WTF||

    Why don't they just call it lese majeste and be done with it?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Because Bloomberg doesn't speak French?

  • Tonio||

    I tend to t[h]ink this is punishment for the content of his speech, wrapped up in a thick, sticky layer of pretexts that just happen to carry many, many years in prison.

    Pure poetry, RC, you silver-tongued devil.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Did he actually steal the original ads, or just cover them up? And is covering up an ad actually a crime or just a civil offense?

  • Belgian||

    Seems like it would be akin to vandalism? Maybe? But I don't see the NYPD going after vandals with quite so much gusto...

  • dspDrew||

    It's not vandalism if there was no damage to the property.

  • Tonio||

    Steal, obscure, doesn't matter. Someone rented that ad space and by depriving that someone of their space he's stealing. Having said that, I think he should be civilly liable for reimbursing the person who leased the space.

    However, as RC stated above, his real crime was the thoughtcrime of disrespecting the au-tho-rit-ie of the NYPD, and we can't have people doing that.

    It sounds like he'd have been better off had he simply pasted his posters over top of the glass; therefore simple vandalism, no "forged instrument" (key) hassles, etc.

  • Rich||

    what the hell is "criminal possession of a forged instrument"?

    I had the same reaction, Rasilio.

    Upon reflection, I'll wager that "forged instrument" refers to his copying the immigrant crossing sign.

  • Ptah-Hotep||

    Under our law, a person is guilty of Criminal Possession of
    a Forged Instrument in the First Degree when, with knowledge
    that it is forged and with intent to defraud, deceive or injure
    another, he or she utters or possesses a forged instrument which
    is or purports to be or which is calculated to become or to
    represent if completed (specify appropriate instrument as set forth
    in Penal Law §170.15 ).

    Some of the terms used in this definition have their own
    special meaning in our law. I will now give you the meaning of the
    The instruments specified in the respective subdivisions of Penal Law §170.15 are:
    1. Part of an issue of money, stamps, securities, or other valuable instruments issued by a government or governmental instrumentality; or
    2. Part of an issue of stock, bonds, or other instruments representing interests in or claims against a corporate or other organization or its property.

    Sounds like those are bogus charges.

  • SugarFree||

    or other valuable instruments issued by a government or governmental instrumentality

    The NYPD logo, I bet.

  • Rich||

    Bingo.

  • SIV||

    Essam and his team disguised themselves as employees of the outdoor advertising firm Van Wagner

    Bill-posting company uniforms?

  • nicole||

    That's what I was thinking. And maybe even the running family, for funsies.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    No, that can't be it. The law specifies that it's a "valuable" instrument.

  • Mr Whipple||

    Value is subjective.

  • Number 2||

    "...he or she utters or possesses a forged instrument which
    is or purports to be or which is calculated to become or to
    represent if completed "

    Calculated to become?? Represent if completed??

    Wow.

    Under this definition, I can be arrested for holding a blank piece of paper if you can concoct evidence that I "intended" to make it look like a corporate bond to "injure another."

    Three felonies a day...

  • JW||

    Sounds like those are bogus charges.

    Just lie back and think of Bloomburg.

  • dspDrew||

    Haha yeah, that one will be thrown out.. give me a break. Anyone that thinks this has nothing to do with speech needs to think again.

  • Killazontherun||

    I don't see this as a criminal case, at all. How is sending him to prison on the tax payer's dime going to bring restitution to those ad buyers he wronged? It actually makes it more difficult for them to collect if a civil judgement went their way as it most likely will.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Civil disobedience is always a game of chicken with the authorities. If they swerve, you win. If you collide, you go to jail and they (if you calculated correctly) look like overbearing tyrants.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Shouldn't this be a civil, and not a criminal, matter?

    IANAL, but the punishment seems excessive.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    what the hell is "criminal possession of a forged instrument"?

    Probably having faked or altered contracts, stocks, bonds. With NYC's byzantine laws, this could be another of the "disorderly conduct" style charges they toss in as a coverall charge.

  • Robert||

    I think the "forged instrument" might be the posters themselves, purporting to come from the NYPD. Usually you'd think of that meaning a phony check.

  • dspDrew||

    They purposely write the laws so they can be used against almost anyone, almost any day of the week. These laws make great tools for going after political enemies.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I will sleep better tonight knowing this terrorist has been apprehended.

    Now the NYPD can get back to their primary responsibility of detaining and searching people randomly in open defiance of the Constitution.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    he was not arrested for the content of his speech

    Of course not. We all know the NYPD goes into full court press mode every time some random graffiti artist obscures a private ad.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Of course they do. Last week they had one day without anyone getting killed or stabbed, so it's clear that all violent crime in NYC has been handled.

  • Rich||

    It was because people are afraid of getting droned!

  • ||

    Tulpa will be masturbating furiously over this news.

  • T||

    I can't see why this would make him angry. More like 'gleefully'.

  • ||

    fu·ri·ous/ˈfyo͝orēəs/
    Adjective:
    1. Extremely angry.
    2. Full of anger or energy; violent or intense.

    I'm guessing he was going with definition number 2

  • JW||

    Shouldn't he first call The Mighty Midget and set up a besties jerk?

  • Paul.||

    Tulpa will be masturbating furiously over this news.

    Only if he can tear is loving attention away from the camera pointed towards his living room window...

    Yeah, but seriously, it seems that some minor charge would come from breaking(?) into the advertising boxes in the subway system and obscuring paid advertisements.

    But as pointed out above, the NYPD going into full Terrorism 9/11 Reaction mode suggests that there is a political motive to the arrest, and it's directly related to the content of the poster, not the act itself.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    I LOOM LARGE

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Tulpa will be masturbating furiously over this news.

    Unfortunately, his NFL licensed Pittsburgh Steelers Special Edition Fleshlight leaves his hands free to type.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Christ, if they sold those for real, and it had a picture of Ben Roethlisberger's face near the hole, ever dudebag in p-burgh would have one.

    Fucking yinzers.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    I'm no Stillers fan, but that's just wrong. I don't think they want him to perform fellatio on them.

    They might be up for some sporadic frottage but that's the extent of it.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    Ray Lewis fleshlights would probably sell well, though.

  • nicole||

    Not sure whether to be more angry with you or Warty. Guys!

  • Tulpa Doom||

    I apologize, nicole. My friends at H+R are intimidated by my masculinity and are prone to puzzling reactions.

  • Scott T||

    Free speech? I can't steal space someone else had paid for to get my message out. I definitely appreciate the message though.

  • R C Dean||

    Oddly, he doesn't seem to have been charged with stealing the ad space, unless that's what the "grand larceny possession of stolen property" is for.

    I would say that it is difficult to align putting your poster in somebody else's space with the definition of "larceny", but what is the rule of law compared to the need to inculcate proper respect for authority.

  • sarcasmic||

    Could any one of us here survive a search of our home and effects without police finding something to charge us with?

  • nicole||

    Could anyone at all?

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm sure there are plenty of goody-two-shoes out there who could survive a search. Blind authority worshipers who would never dare to do more than take a shit without asking permission or taking an order.

  • nicole||

    I don't know, I think elimination of any mens rea requirement from so many laws means even goody two-shoes types can get fucked pretty royally. That is, after all, the whole point of three felonies a day.

  • sarcasmic||

    Rule of Man. Piss off the wrong Man and he'll find some way to put you in prison.

  • dspDrew||

    If they were a political enemy, I highly doubt it, they would find something. The laws are specifically written for that.

  • T||

    I noted this years ago with the Unabomber search warrant. They could have searched my house and found evidence of 'bomb making materials' under the standards they used with Teddy K.

  • sarcasmic||

    I have a small thing of bentonite used to clarify fruit wine.

    I'm sure I'd be charged with 'bio-weapon making materials' if an imaginative fed found it. And that copper coil I use for an immersion cooler could be mistaken for a distillery's worm coil. Fuck. If some pig goes poking through by brew shit I'm looking at a decade in prison!

  • T||

    Well, 'bomb making materials' included copper wire. That combined with The Anarchist's Cookbook and my old field manuals = bomber!

  • Brett L||

    I guess I'd better get rid of the KNO3 and toluene left over from various projects, eh? (Although everyone knows you can't just directly trinitrate toluene, you use ammonium ions and then replace the H with O, right?)

    Hello, NSA. Nothing to see here. Move along.

  • ||

    Nothing that exotic here. The weed alone would suffice for some kind of criminal charge.

  • Rasilio||

    Pretty sure they could get 95% or more of us just for having pirated music on our computers.

  • sarcasmic||

    Or child porn charges from cached images on advertising links we never followed.

  • ||

    Ads probably placed by the feds so every comp has them so everyone can be had if they "need to be."

  • Mr Whipple||

    Don't joke about that. The Austrian police just busted a Tor exit node operator for that. And you thought there weren't any honeypots anymore.

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-po.....s-servers/

  • dspDrew||

    I have always wondered if that could happen. Clearly the exit node operator was not visiting those websites, but once you use TOR, you are definitely a political enemy, and you know what happens to political enemies.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I could.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I would say that it is difficult to align putting your poster in somebody else's space with the definition of "larceny"

    I can see them charging him with "theft of services" or something, but they have obviously decided to throw the book at him for his thoughtcrime.

  • Paul.||

    larceny possession of stolen property and weapons possession after allegedly having an unloaded .22-caliber revolver under his bed at his Manhattan apartment when he was arrested early Wednesday.

    What's the rule? Don't break more than one law at a time?

  • chad c mulligan||

    This is the same dude that put up these WANTED posters of Obama/Romney in NYC...

    http://animalnewyork.com/2012/.....nd-romney/

    I call it genius street art and will be happy to donate to his legal defense fund.

  • Paul.||

    As a resolute libertarian, Essam believes Obama and Romney are “essentially the same,” and that neither are fit to be president.

    Whoops, just fell out of the 'serious artist' column.

    Occupy Wall St. is not pleased.

  • Robert||

    30+ yrs. ago I stole a Selective Service registration ad from a subway car to take home & make measurements. From those I made stickers to modify the message, and went around stickering those ads on the subway cars.

  • The Derider||

    That's 2 articles on the subject, and zero accusations of "vandalism". I'm sure this has nothing to do with the libertarian political views of the vandal.

    http://reason.com/blog/2012/09.....zing-subwa

    Remember, consistency is only important when you're accusing liberals of being inconsistent.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    It would be nice if Reason acknowledged that this would still be a crime in libertopia. However, it's also quite clear that the NYPD isn't treating this like a simple matter of vandalism.

  • The Derider||

    It would be nicer if Reason didn't selectively use the word vandalism to support libertarians and oppose liberals.

  • ||

    Stop perpetrating vandalism on this page, please.

  • Quixote||

    As I have indicated elsewhere, in New York City, a basic decision has been made to spend public money hunting down, arresting, and prosecuting, under any possible legal pretext, the purveyors of satire that is not "just for fun," is not "clear" and “humorous” enough, and is in some way offensive or embarrassing to influential members of the community. This is why the author of "Gmail confessions" in which a well-known New York University department chairman was portrayed as accusing himself of plagiarism has been convicted of forgery, identity theft, and criminal impersonation, and sentenced to spend 6 months at Rikers Island. For further information on this NYU case (in which some of the characters involved seem to have emerged from a Phillip Roth novel), see:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    It should, incidentally, be observed that the criminalizing of satire in NYC is taking place without even a murmur of protest from civil rights organizations.

  • Mr Whipple||

    Pseudonymous is not the same as anonymous. It's to the point now, that you had better use Tor or STFU. Tor is the only way to have any hope of anonymity on line.

    They may be able to force you to turn over your private key to unlock encrypted files, but they can't force you or your ISP to turn over your browsing history because there isn't any.

    I suggest everyone learn basic cryptology while they still can.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement