• February 10, 2009
  • Posted by Marc

Was Shepard Fairey Arrested To Embarrass The Mayor Of Boston? - A First Hand Account

Photo by Holly Combs, PEEL Magazine

For those who know Shepard Fairey, the news of his arrest in Boston, on the eve of his opening at the ICA, came as a big surprise.  We were surprised because for well over a week while Shepard was preparing the exhibition, the biggest show of his life, he was the talk of the town.  Shepard was everywhere, from the front page of the arts section of the Boston Globe to a highly publicized media event with the Mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino.

Remembering that Boston was the same city where the Police had manipulated a promotional stunt for the show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” into a full scale terror alert, we asked ourselves -

If the police wanted to arrest Shepard Fairey so badly, why did they wait so long after the warrant was issued to arrest him?  In addition, why would they arrest him on the night of the biggest opening of his life at one of country’s most prestigious art institutions?

Last night we spoke with Dave Combs, the publisher of PEEL Magazine, and were amazed to hear that the cops are actually pulled Shep out of a cab to arrest him and that they did it as Shepard was entering the museum parking lot. 

This morning Dave sent us a long note about what went down.  We wanted share it with you…

Photo by Holly Combs, PEEL Magazine

From Dave:

The real story about Shepard Fairey’s arrest in Boston Friday night is the resulting riot that didn’t happen – a riot that the Boston Police Department may have carefully planned to provoke and hoped would happen that evening, but didn’t.

On January 2nd, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino proposed a one-year wage freeze for city workers, including the Boston Police Department. The Boston Police Superior Officers Federation agreed to a contract on January 23, but not until after the city dismissed its residency case against West Roxbury Police Sergeant Michael Hanson. In the mix of the deal was an alleged list of more than 25 superior police officers who are living outside the city in violation of their contracts’ residency requirements. Through the use of strong-arm tactics, the Mayor got his wage freeze and at least 25 of Boston’s Finest got to keep their jobs. The following day, two warrants were issued for Shepard Fairey’s arrest.

On Wednesday, February 4th, Mayor Menino met with Shepard and was photographed shaking his hand following the unveiling of Fairey’s ‘Peace Goddess’ banner on the North wall of City Hall at a public event to promote his show, Supply and Demand, at the Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston. Thursday night Shepard sat for a Q-and-A talk at the ICA which was publicized by the museum after which he signed autographs for more than an hour. Shepard was not arrested until two full weeks after the warrants had been issued and after numerous public appearances in Boston.

The obvious question is: Why did the police take so long after the warrant was issued to apprehend their man? Was it a matter of pure incompetence? As admiring fans of his work, were the police giving him opportunity to make appearances and put more art out on the streets of Boston? I don’t think so.

My wife Holly and I were riding in the cab with Shepard and his wife Amanda from the Renaissance Hotel to the museum when the police made their move, and the answer to my question became clear only after replaying the event in my mind several times and re-examining the circumstances over and over again with Holly. It is my belief that the Boston Police Department had carefully planned to serve their warrants in front of an audience of approximately 800 excited Shepard Fairey fans, some of whom had reportedly paid as much as $500 on Craigslist for a ticket to the event. In my opinion, the BPD had at the very least set out to make a public spectacle of the arrest, and at worst were intent on provoking the agitated crowd to riot. They clearly had it out for Mayor Menino, and had engineered the perfect scenario with which to simultaneously tie Menino to a “criminal graffiti vandal” and conveniently show up to be the heroes of their own story.

Two unlikely factors worked together to foil their plan, as Shepard was arrested quietly and with no fanfare just outside the entrance to the museum parking lot with only four known witnesses apart from Shepard and the Boston Police officers themselves.

The first unlikely occurrence was that my wife Holly and I were riding in the cab in the first place. Completely unplanned, Shepard spontaneously offered to share the cab with us since we were leaving the hotel to go to the show at precisely the same time. Holly hopped into the front seat, Amanda remained on the drivers-side, and Shepard made room for me to his right. I squeezed in and shut the rear passenger-side door. One of us quickly told the cab driver we were going to the ICA and the cab driver quickly backed out of the hotel pick-up area and headed up Seaport Boulevard toward the Museum.

The second unlikely factor was that the driver missed the turn for the entrance of the ICA. We had to show him where to turn into the museum. As we approached the entrance Holly, looking back, noticed that there was an unmarked tan SUV tailgating our cab. She pointed it out to Amanda, who said something like, “Why is that guy riding our ass?” At the same time Shepard said to the driver, “It’s right here! The museum.” and pointed to the parking lot entrance. The driver slowed down to attempt to make the turn but still missed the entrance by just a fraction of a second and we passed it by a short distance. The driver tried to back up or turn around but the unmarked SUV directly behind us was blocking our path. Police officers quickly surrounded the cab, and one of them pounded loudly on the driver’s window. “Boston Police, stop the car! Turn off the car!” The officer exchanged words with the cab driver, and one of the officers flashed a badge and asked us each to identify ourselves. When Shepard calmly said, “I’m Shepard,” one officer commanded, “Everybody out of the car, now!”  We quickly decided to OBEY.

Two officers surrounded Shepard on the far side of the cab in the street and an additional officer herded the remaining three of us over to the curb on the other side of the cab where we stood facing Shepard with our backs towards the museum. The officer asked if any of us were family and Amanda told them that she is his wife. The three of us stood stunned overhearing the officer explain to Shepard that they had warrants for his arrest. Shepard calmly explained that he had already taken care of the warrants, and one of the officers said, “These are new warrants.” More verbal exchange ensued, and at some point Shepard raised his hands in front of himself and from what I could see from the curb, the officer cuffed or zip-tied his wrists. Holly asked, “What’s happening?” Amanda replied she didn’t know. About then one of the officers told us that Shepard was going to jail, and he would be there until Monday morning. They pulled his two black bags out of the cab and asked who they belonged to. “It’s his records and laptop for DJ’ing, but my stuff is in there too,” Amanda replied. The officer put down the bags and said he didn’t want their stuff.

Amanda proceeded to inform one of the officers that Shepard is diabetic and that his insulin pump was low and would need to be refilled very soon. She went over to the other side of the cab where the officers were standing with Shepard and I couldn’t hear what she said to them. She told the cab driver to keep the meter running and wait. About this time the officers were leading Shepard away from the cab and towards their vehicle. As they were taking him away Amanda reminded him that he has rights and he needs to talk to their lawyer. When she returned to the curb on our side of the cab an officer told Amanda the phone number and district where they were going to take Shepard so she could bring his insulin. We had no pen or paper so Holly took down the number into her iPhone, and emailed it to Amanda. Amanda at first asked me to stay there and watch to make sure they didn’t do anything to Shepard, but in the time it took for Holly to get the information from the officer and email it to Amanda they had already gotten Shepard into a marked police vehicle and we couldn’t see him any longer. I remember at one point during all the activity turning around and looking behind us at the museum to see if anyone in the parking lot or in front of the museum could see what was happening out here. Apparently they couldn’t as it was fairly dark and we were pretty far away from the museum. No one was watching us save for the Giant icon above the museum.

What we didn’t realize at the time is the events were clearly the Boston Police Department’s “Plan B”. Had the two unlikely events I described not happened just as they did, their “Plan A” would have gone something like the following…

Plan A: We successfully make the turn into the ICA. The unmarked SUV follows our cab and drives right up to the front entrance of the glass-façade ICA with 800 of Shepard’s fans inside and outside hyped on adrenaline excitedly watching, waiting for him to arrive. The SUV swoops in and the undercover cops emerge to seize Shepard right in front of all those fans. Now, I was in that crowd later that night, and I can be sure that at least a handful of those guys I met inside wouldn’t have just stood there without doing something. It might have been that they ran out and shouted obscenities at the cops who were arresting Shepard, or they might have simply lost their minds and just mobbed the cops depending on the number of people who ran out, all while the cameras were rolling. Either way, something ugly certainly would have jumped off, and whatever happened it would have played right into the hands of the Boston Police Department and helped them hand the Mayor his ass on a platter. Remember, Mayor Menino was photographed just two days earlier congratulating Shepard and welcoming him to Boston.

Later that night we took another cab back to the Museum and we went around the line of people still waiting to get in as our names were on the guest list, and that’s when we realized how many people would have been watching Shepard get arrested if we hadn’t missed that turn. We went inside, and saw the expectant faces of all those in attendance and we were heavily burdened with the knowledge that Shepard wasn’t going to be coming that night. We went upstairs to try to find some friends, and tell them what was happening in order to get some outside perspective while were surrounded by 20 years of Shepard’s artwork. Everyone agreed that there was little we could do right now, and that Amanda and the others were taking care of business. Later on we went downstairs to hear Z-Trip as he was keeping up the vibe and carrying the weight of the crowd’s expectations and their emotions about Shepard’s arrest. I didn’t hear the announcement or the crowd’s response when they said he’d been arrested, but with his incredible energy and marvelous skills Z-Trip managed to turn a terrible situation into a rally and unite the crowd to party in celebration of the struggle against the powers that be. If you can just imagine the energy in a room packed with 800 fans led by Z-Trip in a one-finger salute to the Boston Police Department to the tune of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name of” followed by Bob Marley singing “Get Up Stand Up” to bring it back down you can see how he helped us work out our frustrations with the music, and be able to then chill out and not start that riot after all.

It’s my opinion based on what I experienced, Shepard Fairey became a pawn in an ugly political game in which the Boston Police Department was willing to risk the safety of the citizens it has sworn to protect in order to punish the Mayor for his shady deal. With cops and city government officials like that, who needs criminals? Apparently they do.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts via Twitter to @MarcSchil