NYPD Top Cop: Kids Might Become Vandals if They See Graffiti in Museum


Thomas Hawk

The Museum of the City of New York has a rich exhibit on "the golden age of New York graffiti" but one man isn't happy at all about the display. New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner William Bratton is downright furious that pieces lauded as comparable to "Ali Baba's cave of secret art treasures" is being shown to the public… to kids!

"I find it outrageous that one of the city's museums is currently celebrating graffiti and what a great impact it had on the city," he vented to The Wall Street Journal about "City as Canvas," which explores the explosion of street art in '70s and '80s and features the work of "seminal figures in an artistic movement that spawned a worldwide phenomenon, altering music, fashion, and popular visual culture." Pish posh. Bratton fears the consequences of "having New York City school kids at the impressionable age of 12 years old walking through looking at this stuff and having it advertised as 'Isn't this great?'"

Isn't it, though? Art's got a subjective side to it, and what the commissioner sees as 150 pieces of visually-digestible criminal inspiration, The New York Times celebrates the practice that "flourished so wonderfully" in part because "the nearly bankrupt city government lacked the resources to stop it" and the fact that this exhibit memorializes the history of "street art, a symbol of the disaffection felt among young men (and a few women) of color, attempted to reclaim streets and communities from systemic neglect." Others embrace the fact that "the show highlights the role of street art as a tool of self-expression."

Wikimedia Commons

The museum director politely responded that promoting crime to kids is not the exhibit's intent. But it's little surprise Bratton jumped to such a far-out conclusion. His blood has long boiled at the sight of street art, and earlier this year he pushed to put ugly bandaids on the problem by having officers divert their focus from other crimes and diligently paint squares over tags.

Bratton is a big believer in "broken window theory" law enforcement, the notion that snuffing out low-level crimes in a society will prevent the rise of more serious ones. Whether this actually works is up for debate as much as the artistic merit of graffiti. Bratton's own boys in blue have a bad history of manufacturing petty crime while not dealing with bigger ones, though, and Bratton himself has defended such policies even in the face of tragic, lethal abuses like last month's killing of Eric Garner, a father of six who was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.

But let's remember, what Bratton is throwing a fit about this week wasn't a crime, it was a museum exhibit. The commissioner seems to have become a self-parody in worrying that in the skulls of children are brains so malleable, so easily impressed upon, that seeing something in an educational setting might transform youths into criminals. 

No one tell him that there's another graffiti exhibit in an old NYPD precinct building.