Community Post

City hands over 23rd & Union emails: No demand from SPD?

One of the big open questions on the issue of the 23rd & Union art installation was the sequence of events. How did an officer “passing along a request” about a single photo turn into the removal of the entire set of art?

Last week we made a formal public disclosure request to the Seattle Police Department, asking for all emails or records of phone calls between the community police team officer and the other parties involved in the artwork. We got a response back from the city yesterday, and we now have a fuller picture of how things went down.

One key point of contention was whether SPD upped the pressure on the project by contacting the lenders of Jim Mueller, the owner of the vacant lot where the art was installed. We specifically asked for any documents on that alleged communication, and none were included in the response. Although that is not definitive, state law would have been violated if such communication did occur but wasn’t disclosed or otherwise addressed according to our request.

Here’s the timeline we can now put together based on the email thread and our discussions with project organizer Jenny Asarnow:

  • June 9th – An SPD officer sends an email to Asarnow regarding “concerns from numerous citizens” regarding one person depicted in the art, saying “they are asking me to ask you to please take down his picture”
  • Asarnow says that Jim Mueller, the property owner, called her and asked her to take it down. She initially agreed.
  • June 10th – Asarnow responds “Thank you for letting me know about this. We plan to take down the installation”
  • Asarnow says that after that she and the artists came up with a plan to keep the structures, but get artists to volunteer new paintings to take the place of the original photographs. However, it fell through when no artists were willing to do it.
  • July 13th – The SPD officer replies back to Asarnow, saying “The picture is still up. Any ETA when it is coming down?”
  • July 17th – Asarnow responds in the longest email of the thread, taking issue with the claim of “numerous citizens” who complained to SPD but who never made any contact with the project itself. She also clarifies that the installation was never intended to depict the “heroes” of the intersection, but only capture a portrait of the corner as it was. But she closes with “we’re working on a plan to remove the installation in a respectful way. I’ll be happy to let you know when that plan is finalized.”
  • July 20th – Jim Mueller responds to the July 13th email, saying “We’ll get this taken down. Sorry for the hassle.”

The full chain of emails is included at left.

The emails seem to make it clear that SPD never demanded the installation be removed, but passed along a citizen request about a specific photo. The project organizers said they would take it all down, and then after time passed the officer sent a followup email asking for an update. 

But Asarnow tells us that they read it as a more formal and serious request. “That’s not how it came across to me. I took it as Officer Greeley asking me and Jim Mueller to take it down, because ‘citizens’ had asked him to do so. “

And it’s probably also important to point out that this wasn’t the first complaint about the art. CDNews had spoken to a few community members earlier in the year who thought the art installation had started to look messy and had outworn its welcome, and who said they would be contacting Mueller about it. Although Mr. Mueller hasn’t responded to our calls on the topic, it could explain part of his mindset on the decision to remove the art.

So the remaining question is whether it was appropriate for the officer to get involved at all.

One reason the Community Police Team exists is to provide resources for long-term issues and annoyances that don’t involve a current 911 call or crime. For example, last year we had a neighbor near CDNews World HQ dump his couch on the parking strip about a block away. SPD couldn’t do anything about it at the time of the 911 call (as we were arguing with the dumper), and the suspect couldn’t be ticketed or punished based only on our say-so. But we mentioned it to a CPT officer and he went and had a chat with the dumper, and convinced him to take care of the problem by himself. No one jailed, no one fined, but problem solved.

The art case is definitely different in that it didn’t involve any sort of actual crime (other than the alleged activity of one of the people who was pictured). And while there’s probably a large agreement in the community that dumped couches are no good,  in this case the request didn’t appear to have anything like a consensus within the neighborhood, but only reflected the opinion of a small sample of people who had complained to SPD.

In hindsight, it seems that the whole process would have gone more smoothly if more people were involved in the decision. Although the mechanics of any process like that is complicated, it could range from consulting neighborhood councils to asking an open question on the topic here on CDNews.

But it seems that we ended up in a more unfortunate position as a neighborhood, with part of the community turned against the police force, and nothing but a fenced vacant lot at a key intersection of the neighborhood.

0 thoughts on “City hands over 23rd & Union emails: No demand from SPD?

  1. Good to know it only takes a one or two cranky neighbors calling the police to censor art.
    Did anyone ever get a count about how many people in our neighborhood liked the installation?

  2. Count me as one who liked it.

    I politely expressed my feelings about the handling of this matter to one of the officers who visited our Night Out event, hoping he’ll take the other side of the controversy back to the East Precinct staff.

  3. Thank you for the clear, detailed explanation of what happened, when, with whom, etc. You have gone above and beyond with your investigation, and have provided clarity and context, and suggestions that hopefully will be thought of if a similar situation should arise.
    This is exactly why I turn here for news of the neighborhood before, during and after any sort of “happening” in the area.
    (as well as for all the fun and happy stuff going on!)
    (AND all the reviews and info on the new eateries and businesses)
    Thanks :~)

  4. I liked the project a lot, it was imaginative and invoked a lot of thought about the ‘hood from what otherwise would be an empty lot. However towards the end it was looking a little weathered and tired. It is too bad the installations legacy will be about a somewhat non existent controversy regarding why, when and how it was taken down. Let’s try to remember it for the more positive aspects. It was never meant to be permanent.

  5. If it was a picture of a successful business woman or a little girl, no one would have a problem.

  6. Though I understand and appreciate the comment about positively picturing business women, or femals as role models, I think we need to remember that not all CD residents are without a past. A roll model today may have been that drug user, or prostitute from a few years ago. Having a criminal record only means you have a past, and once a person turns their life around, I see no reason why they should not be accepted as roll models.

    As to the picture that offended some, I would have had no reason to look at this artistic display as anything but art, not a claim of glorification of the pictured individual.

    There was also a comment about the site having had complaints about it looking less tidy a few months back. The lot did look a little during a short period ( after the art work first appeared ), but then was once again cleaned up, and maintained in a very presentable manor.

  7. I meant that comment to along the lines as people get uncomfortable when they have to look at something that makes have to deal with their surroundings. Yeah you have a nice home, but you’re still in the CENTRAL DISTRICT. A place that had people of color long before people though it was “cool” to live here. Why is it that a picture of a black man staring at you makes people feel like they have to run to police officers. Why does it offend people? Is he smoking crack on the pic or throwing up gang signs?

  8. “it could range from consulting neighborhood councils to asking an open question on the topic here on CDNews.”

    So when you (CDNews) have a dispute with your neighbor over leaving a couch out, it’s ok to use the CPT, but when we neighbors find equally an eyesore the glorification in public art of a self-proclaimed murderer, it’s only ok if we first vet our concerns through the CDNews or a neighborhood council? Sheesh.

    By the way, the 1st thing a neighborhood community council would do is say “call the CPT with your concerns.

  9. So if someone is accused of the same crimes they freely admit to having committed in the past, and they were accused in say, June, now that it’s August we are to assume they’ve turned their life around? Huh?

  10. this guy in the picture lives on the NW corner of 30th and Pike and just 3 weeks ago had 12 policemen outside of his house for a felony warrant. I know a policeman who told me the police have to send several officers out when there is a problem with him, because he has “super-human” strength. Just an fyi. I have no intention of censuring art, but a nice complimentary piece of art would be the criminal history of this guy and the $$$ he costs taxpayers. Keeping the hood exciting for our children.

  11. I’d sure like to see the public record on Savior, there is so much hearsay and conjecture. your comment just feeds the BS. We need to know the truth, not what you heard. I’ve been on talking terms with Savior for more than 10 years, he’s been to my house many times, hell, he known my girls since they were babies and has been nothing but a pleasure to talk with. All I’ve ever got from him is his great hope and support for the CD community. I’m going to touch base with SPD and see what the TRUTH is so we can at least agree on FACTS as opposed to vague innuendo. “Super human strength”, Jesus, what the heck is that supposed to mean? He doesn’t know his own strength? he’s somehow out of Control? Talk to the man, he’s a great guy.

  12. Thank you, Eric.

    There’s good and bad in all of us, and life is a struggle for most of us. I’ve had many good conversations with Saviour, and my visits to “the corner” are always enhanced if they include a chat with him.