Protesters gathered at Troy City Hall in New York State speaking out about the closing of a local art venue. The crowd of protesters included professors, artists and local residents.
The citizens of Troy have had enough. They want a more free Troy. They see their civil liberties dwindling, said Professor Branda Miller of Media Art at RPI.
The Sanctuary for Independent Media became the home of a controversial art exhibit after it was suspended at RPI. The exhibit includes images from a video game in which the kill target is President Bush. Wafaa Bilal said he wants to provoke debate
about the war. Opponents include Troy's DPW Commissioner Bob Mirch, who calls it un-American and pro-terrorist.
Last week, the city put a stop to public gatherings at the sanctuary, citing nonsense about long-time code violations such as doors that could be a hazard in an emergency.
A civil rights attorney working on behalf of the New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a formal request for information relevant to the decision to close an arts and media center on code violations after a controversial art exhibit debuted last
Attorney Peter Henner is investigating whether the Sanctuary’s building is being treated differently than other buildings in the city. The building was ordered closed earlier this month, a day after the opening of Iraqi- American artist Wafaa
Bilal’s video game and art installation, Virtual Jihadi . The exhibit is intended to provoke thought about the roots of violence, but it angered some people who believe it is sympathetic to terrorism.
Among those upset by the artwork was Robert Mirch, public works commissioner and majority leader of the Rensselaer County Legislature. Mirch, who oversees code enforcement, led a protest of the exhibit last Monday outside the Sanctuary’s building.
The public deserves to know what motivated the sudden decision to close the Sanctuary, said Melanie Trimble, director of the NYCLU’s Capital Region Chapter. Public officials cannot selectively enforce building codes simply to shut down
an art exhibit they find distasteful. Such behavior would be an abuse of power wholly inconsistent with the First Amendment right to free speech.
The city of Troy in New York State is facing legal action for shutting down the Sanctuary for Independent Media for building code
violations when a controversial exhibit opened in March.
The New York Civil Liberties Union and the arts group filed a notice of claim against the city and city Public Works Commissioner Robert Mirch seeking unspecified damages.
The city shut the facility to public gatherings after digital artist Wafaa Bilal's video game and exhibit Virtual Jihadi moved there from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
City officials cannot selectively enforce building codes to shut down an art exhibition they find distasteful, said Melanie Trimble, executive director of NYCLU's Capital Region chapter.
The notice is a first step toward filing a lawsuit. Trimble said the arts group and NYCLU have not assessed what damages they seek.
There is a climate of fear in the city, Sanctuary for Independent Media co-founder Steve Pierce said. Pierce, who is also an adjunct professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said city officials use their government authority to go after
people who do not agree with their political views.
Mirch led a demonstration protesting Bilal's video game exhibit, which features himself as a suicide bomber on a mission to assassinate President Bush. Mirch supervises code enforcement and also is majority leader of the Rensselaer County Legislature.
Bilal, an American citizen as well as a faculty member at the Art Institute of Chicago, is currently exhibiting Virtual Jihadi at the Windy City's FLATFILE galleries, accompanied by a renewed round of controversy.
During a speech, Bilal said that the idea for the game started with Quest for Saddam... in which the object is to find and kill Saddam Hussein. Apparently someone in Al Qaeda obtained a copy of the game, changed the skins of the soldiers and Saddam so
that now the player is an Iraqi killing Americans and hunting George Bush [the so-called Night of Bush Capturing game].
The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the city of Troy, New York and its Public
Works Commissioner suppressed free speech by shutting down a controversial video game exhibit in March, 2008.
Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal via his Virtual Jihadi exhibit employed a modded PC game which included a mission to blow up then-President George W. Bush. Bilal said that the exhibit was intended to express his view that US policy in Iraq
helped create terrorists.
Bilal was offered space to display Virtual Jihadi at the Sanctuary for Independent Media.
The gallery, however, was suddenly shut down for building code violations by Troy's Public Works Commissioner, Robert Mirch. Mirch, who is named as a defendant in the suit, had earlier led a demonstration protesting the exhibit. He called the suit
The Albany Times-Union commented: City officials cannot selectively enforce building codes to shut down an art exhibition they find distasteful. Mr. Mirch abused his authority to suppress the free speech rights of people he disagree with, an
unconstitutional act that must be challenged.
According to the Times-Union report, the NYCLU seeks a court order to block the city from using its building code to infringe on civil rights. The suit also seeks damages on behalf of the non-profit which owns the Sanctuary for Independent
Media as well as for the gallery's executive director.