Anti-drone NYC street artist arrested

Essam Attia is NYC street artist who posted fake NYPD posters "reassuring" people about the ubiquitous surveillance of the department, especially via drones. The NYPD surveilled him, tracked him down and arrested him. Heck of a way to prove a point.

The NYDN reports that he's charged with "56 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument, grand larceny possession of stolen property and weapons possession," the last (and possibly worst) charge coming because cops found an unloaded .22 pistol under his bed when they arrested him. On a practical level, Attia was not the most careful art criminal. He signed his work "ESSAM;" and he told Animal that he was a "a 29-year-old art-school grad from Maine, who served in Iraq as a 'geo-spatial analyst.'" It probably did not take an incredible amount of police work to narrow down the possibilities.

NYPD Proves Street Artist Right by Tracking Him Down and Arresting Him (via JWZ)


  1. > cops found an unloaded .22 pistol under his bed when they arrested him.

    Yeah if it was even his gun.  “Oh look at this, guys, what have we here?” as the cop picks up the gun he just put there.

    Do what we want or we will FUCK YOU UP.

  2. That pic makes me lol.  If Apple got in on the drone production I’d lol even harder at them being called iDrones.

    1. That pic makes me lol. If Bill Cosby got in on the drone production I’d lol even harder at them being called The Cosby Drone.

  3. I’m not surprised – if you’re going to copy an official government logo and use it on your publicly distributed work, you’re breaking the law.  Most people in the art design field would/should know this.  Think of it as counterfeiting.  The police department went through the motions once it was brought to the their attention.  

    Had he not used the NYPD logo or put up so many posters, then I don’t think they would have bothered to go after him.  Basically if you’re going to do this type of thing, don’t give them an easy reason (or 56 reasons) to arrest you.

    1. gasp Replacing legitimate posters in public places with politically charged parodies, in holders bought and paid for by advertising dollars and covered with co-opted logos, is illegal? Wowzers. Better let all the street artists know this, as I’m sure they are completely unaware that their work is unsanctioned in legal circles. SOMEONE RING UP BANKSY AND INVADER BEFORE THEY GET IN TROUBLE

      OR…perhaps they’re breaking the law for a reason? Perhaps they’re trying to make a point? I dunno. Maybe I’m missing something.



        1. Then he would still get in trouble for trespass, vandalism, criminal mischief, etc for the various posters that might have been there before his that were removed, or the use of the poster display without paying.

    2.  I had a suspicion these were the “forged instruments” they were referring to. Even if they have a point (and they do, I think, since the posters were on display in public places and the logos don’t look to be altered to be an obvious parody), this is pretty heavy-handed. Parody artworks hardly seems like justification for a search warrant (read: fishing expedition) for his home. They’ll likely make the forged instruments charges stick; or a lesser version if there is any justice in the world (false hope is better than no hope, eh?). I have no idea what the gun laws are like in NYC; I live in Texas where a gun by itself hardly raises any suspicion at all… NYC would likely freak over the loaded pistol-grip 12 gauge I keep around as insurance for the home and remote hiking trips. He may be screwed on that one.

      With any luck, he’ll get in touch with the ACLU or some similar organization and they’ll go to bat for him. It shouldn’t be too hard to mitigate most of the charges on free speech grounds. Hopefully.

      1.  Really, if somone can’t see that it’s parody, just from the image alone, then they have some problems with critical thinking.

        1. “Problems with critical thinking” describes most of our population, unfortunately. Putting “New York City Police Farce” as the logo text prolly would have covered things. While there is a valid argument for not using their official logo (since some out there will inevitably think it’s the real deal), this is one of the worst ways to deal with the issue. I find it ironic, and pretty sad, that the authority’s response mirrors the parody.

          1. If you used modified logos to make it more obviously parody AND only put the posters up in places where it’s legal to post bills, then it might be okay.

            But replacing a paid advertisement with your artwork is illegal no matter how obvious the parody. And they could probably get him just for having the tools to break into the phone booth.

        1.  I didn’t read any of those beyond the title, and not because I dismissed them without reason… I’m no lawyer, but each of those docs include “with intent to defraud” in the title. If this is the charge they’re going with, well, good luck with that. Once that’s tossed, the results of the search warrant will likely also be tossed and this becomes a simple case of authoritative harassment. Not like anything will change on the authority’s part unless he manages to pony up the effort to sue on the grounds of his rights being violated (and I hope he does). Another case of “Bad Cop, No Doughnut.”

          1. I am not a lawyer, but I believe that the results of executing the search warrant would only be tossed if it could be shown the warrant was procured in bad faith.  They can’t just be wrong, but dishonest.

            While we here at BoingBoing may think it was ‘bad faith’, the police here did have a reason to believe they’d find “forged instruments” when they executed the search.  “With intent to defraud” may have been what they were hoping to find evidence for.  

      2. The fact that it’s a pistol is his main problem.  It’s the most damning kind of gun to own in town.  Permits are required for pretty much all guns except shotguns and rifles (even those need to be registered however).  But handguns are strongly restricted and permitting can take up to 6 months. 

        Your biggest freak out from the PD is likely going to be that “loaded” part.  And finding decent remote hiking within about 4-6 hours.

        1. I owned a .22 rifle while in high school in upstate NY, but usually only carried a bb gun for plinking when hiking since a large group of noisy hikers makes the need for defense against wildlife an unlikely possibility. Not to mention even .22 ammo was an expense that I could only afford rarely, and I’m not into hunting.

          I moved around a lot, and landed in TX. I know this may rub some the wrong way, but I actually like the “lax” gun laws here. Possession isn’t so much an issue, but expect to be come down upon hard for “brandishing”. If you’re waving a gun around without being actively involved in defending your or another’s safety, you should find yourself at the bottom of an LEO dogpile. But that’s here, and NYC is a different place where Bernhard Goetz can be acquitted of murder on the grounds of self defense yet still be convicted of carrying the tools used for that defense. I don’t think I have the cajones to perform my line of work that I did in Dallas if I were unarmed in NYC.

          I think it’s important that the gun was “found” in an abode as opposed to being carried in public. Loaded or unloaded is minor, in my opinion…who keeps a uselessly unloaded gun around? With local laws in mind, this is a relevant point to me.

          ./not a gun-waving yahoo

    3. This would seem to be EXACTLY the kind of thing that the First Amendment is supposed to protect.  And exactly the kind of thing that Ben Franklin would have gotten up to.  I guess that the First is just exhausted from protecting corporate donations.

    4. Eh, I wouldn’t count him as guilty yet.  As much as the US blows in many areas of law, its free speech protections are some of the strongest in the world.  Parody, which this clearly is, is in particular very well protect.  He isn’t going to be tossed in jail for the picture.

      Now, that said, if he has a bunch of stolen police property and a gun he doesn’t have a license for, he could in fact be screwed.  The actual picture though?  He is going to score a slap on the wrist for putting it on private property, not for the hilarious content. 

  4. Hopefully in the future he will take care to review his practices and upon finding them illegal take better precautions. I would like to see his works displayed more often than every 3-5 years. 

    I had friend when I was a teen. Got his arm inked with “Fuck the Police” in big gothic script. His right to do so, though 14 is too young to get ink back then that kind of rule never mattered to anyone I knew.

    We fell out of touch partly because I couldn’t have cops around and he was a cop magnet. 

    Saw him years later, he was tending bar at a boozecan shithole. Half the skin on his arm was now big black blocks. 

    Gotta be alive to fight the power.

  5. Anyone notice that his signature incorporates the Nazi SS symbol?  If he’s invoking it to make a point, it’s a strange place to include it in the piece…

    1.  That was almost the first thing I noticed, other than the fact that an official NYPD artifact would never have the whimsical loop of the missile trail.  Read the way you and I saw it, maybe he’s in favor of overzealous activity?

    2. That shit ain’t right. But you won’t catch me sympathizing with the authorities simply because I disagree with him, or misunderstand his point.

      Would you feel the same if he had a rainbow tattooed on his arm?

    3. Yep, first thing I saw here too – and completely negated any sympathy I had for him. Anyone using that imagery as part of a sig for their identity is scum as far as I’m concerned.

  6. Except that they totally didn’t prove his point right, they tracked him down through him being a complete idiot. Nowhere in the article does it say they used any of their extreme snooping powers. If they’d caught him through surveillance camera footage or tapping his phone or whatever then yes, but they didn’t they caught him because he gave out personal information that identified him. They were just doing good old fashioned police work in following the incredibly obvious trail he left back to himself.

    1. You’re right, but someone will flame you for defending the police.  Or more likely take down your comment for being an apologist.

      1. I don’t see either of those being the case, nor is it being excessively critical, maybe you’re a little too sensitive about bb’s moderation policies?

      2.  More comments of mine were taken down than you have written, but never for expressing a valid differing opinion. 
        Breaking the rules. 
        Technical reasons (strange filter pawns). 

        Never for being argumentative or an ass. 

        Timothy Tankersley isn’t defending the cops, he is saying that he disagrees with “Heck of a way to prove a point.

  7. How does that saying go…

    To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.

    I guess he found out.

  8. “Protection when you least expect it.”

    That is hilarious, in a very dark way, and surprisingly spot on as commentary on what happened. It shines a light on the issue of who is being served and who is under suspicion. The police should be smart enough to handle this in a way that doesn’t make them look thuggish, but . . . oh well.

  9. So this is how our version of the British Surveillance State evolves; we don’t track soccer hooligans, we track artists and political activists?

    Did the City of New York really spend our hard-earned tax dollars tracking a graffiti artist? I don’t really care if it’s a crime or not, if this is all they can do with the tech they have, it’s time to declare the War on Terror over and defund this garbage.

    1. So this is how our version of the British Surveillance State evolves; we don’t track soccer hooligans, we track artists and political activists?

      This is nothing new.  Artists and political activists have been targets since before the cold war.

  10. This is awful. Making satires that offend people should not cause law enforcement to scrutinize people. We either have freedom of expression or we do not. Shame on NYPD.

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