Renowned graffiti artist sues NYPD for painting over his street art
By NOAH GOLDBERG
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS (LINK)
JUN 01, 2021 AT 5:11 PM
A well-known graffiti artist is suing the NYPD for painting over his street mural, arguing that the police department’s recent citywide clean-up mission “endangers hundreds of valuable, recognized, and permitted artworks.”
Michael McLeer, 51, who also goes by Michael Kaves, filed his lawsuit as a class action, asking that other street artists join him in his battle against the paint police.
“Using an undiscerning eye and an obtuse brush, the untrained crew went out to blot out art from street canvases,” wrote McLeer and his lawyers in the suit filed Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court. “As a result, the City and the NYPD has permanently destroyed valuable and recognized artwork and trampled on the reputation and rights of artists.”
The suit focuses on an NYPD campaign that began in March 2021, in which the cops partnered with community residents to paint over graffiti across the city.
The campaign was set to begin April 10 — and that very day, the 84th Precinct posted a Tweet showing officers and civilians painting over McLeer’s “Death From Above” mural at 115 York St. in Brooklyn.
“When I found out this piece was destroyed, I was devastated. When I made this work, I was full of pride. I felt it had an epic quality to it. It was a piece dedicated to my mother and became one of my oldest public pieces, standing untouched for 13 years,” McLeer said in a statement to the Daily News.
But McCleer argues that he had permission for the mural and that it had been up for the past 13 years at the location. McCleer was featured in the Daily News in 2014 for a mural he made of his mother and sister, who were both killed in a hit-and-run incident in the 1990s.
“The artist Kaves, the property owner, the tenant of the property, and many community members were shocked and enraged by the NYPD’s attack on the Mural which had been appreciated and preserved by the community,” the suit states.
The suit says that the destruction of the approved murals constitutes a violation of artists’ free speech and demands monetary damages from the police department.
“The police department needs to recognize what they destroyed was art and compensate artists for the damages. Artists and the general public itself have the American right to express themselves. And at the end of the day, the city has made a deliberate decision to remove a citizen’s artistic expression,” McLeer said.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.