Home > Uncategorized > Nobody’s Happy on Opposite Day – Emotionally Charged Reactions Lead to Misunderstandings in Troy

Nobody’s Happy on Opposite Day – Emotionally Charged Reactions Lead to Misunderstandings in Troy

PLEASE NOTE BEFORE READING: All information in this blog was ascertained through publically available information, including news articles from The Troy Record.

With one controversy raging state-wide and nation-wide (due to the fact that we’re the Empire State after all), another has arisen that is making the rounds and elliciting some strong reactions in the area.

This week, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was set to host an exhibit by Wafaa Bilal, a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago and Iraqi political refugee, called “The Night of Bush Capturing.” The item of controversy in the exhibit was a video game wherein Bilal inserted himself as a playable character, where the goal (or one of the goals) is to assassinate President George W. Bush in a suicide bombing.

Understandably, emotions flared upon news of the exhibit, which illicited strong reactions and misunderstandings from both sides of the political divide in the area. Many decried it as terrorist and anti-American without having seen the exhibit, while many others chastised Rensselaer for cancelling the exhibit in order to “censor all artists”, even though the primary concern came when it was learned that Bilal’s work may have been derived from materials put out by Al Qaeda and was the primary reason for the cancellation. In fact, after the initial controversy, Rensselaer was ready to continue with the exhibit as planned until word came of FBI involvement.

From what I’ve read, Bilal was interviewed and eventually the Feds came to the conclusion that their suspicions were either unfounded and/or that Bilal did not knowingly produce this work with any ill intent or gain any materials through unsavory means. Bilal had stated on several local news reports that he was denied access to a building, and this information would seem to indicate that Bilal was denied clearance for security reasons pertaining specifically to the fact that he was being questioned due to concerns over the source material.

Bilal was invited to display his exhibit this week at the Independent Art Sanctuary in Troy. A partial opening was done on Monday evening, which was met by protests from those who felt the work was “terrorist”, “anti-American”, and “unpatriotic” due to the video game where Bush is a target. Counter-protests were done for the sake of free speech.

In reading more about what the video game entailed and what Bilal had hoped to achieve with it, I’m a little concerned that people are taking this far more seriously than it should be. Not that it’s considered satire, per se, but that the video game was meant to show that there’s a double standard in society wherein video games are put on the market where Heads of States of other nations are targeted, but that we would be none too happy if that was done to us. However, the more I learned about this exhibit, it came across less like “art” to me and more like “opposite day.” I’m also a little confused as to what video games in particular are on the market where real-life Heads of State are targeted, as though I’m not privy to the Gamer Culture I’m hard pressed to think of any examples where that’s the case.

I had plans at some point to see it for myself. But today, on the day when the exhibit was set to open to the public, the Sanctuary was “shut down” by the City of Troy’s code enforcement.

Cue frenzy.

And now, we get to the reason why I’m writing about this in the first place. In the interest of fairness (since I happen to personally know certain individuals whom are being slandered by the reactions to the closing), I have to correct folks on a few things that have been spread in blogs, comments, and other statements I’ve been seeing/hearing elsewhere in reaction to the Sanctuary’s “closing”

1. Code Enforcement hasn’t “shut it down.” They’ve asked that the Sanctuary not hold any more public exhibits until the concerns they have as it pertained to the building were addressed or resolved.

2. Bob Mirch was one of the organizers of the protests against the exhibit on Monday night. In addition to his role in the County Legislature, he also serves as the Deputy Commissioner of Public Works for Troy. He doesn’t oversee Code Enforcement, nor would this be his call. Therefore, to say that he personally shut down the exhibit isn’t just an incorrect assumption, but factually incorrect.

3. Though crying foul, the Sanctuary is being given plenty of time to address/fix these issues. In fact, they have been given far more leeway than many other businesses and organizations would be given. They were first notified of code enforcement violations that needed to be addressed immediately over 14 months ago. The Sanctuary’s Director, Steve Pierce, has brought up a letter that he sent to the City of Troy detailing the progress they had made and what still needed to be fixed. Curiously, he does not note when this letter was sent. Which leads us to…

4. Sometimes paperwork falls through the cracks. When an individual or organization is notified by a municipality that a building is not up to code, it is their responsibility to fix it. If your building has several areas of concern that may potentially make it unsafe for the public to enter, it is YOUR responsibility to fix it. Sending a letter saying “I’m not done yet” and not getting a response for several months does not mean that everything’s okay and you should proceed with opening it up to the public.

5. Though Pierce claims that the Fire Chief and two inspectors from Code Enforcement toured the facility with him and said they were “fine” with what he planned to do, nowhere does it state that this was an official inspection in which he passed.

6. This was and wasn’t brought on by the controversial exhibit they’re housing. It wasn’t shut down for showing an exhibit that certain people felt was “unamerican.” It was shut down because they got a lot of press coverage for hosting the exhibit, and as such brought attention to the fact that they were putting on a public exhibition despite not being up to code and fixing the numerous fire and safety violations present in the building.

I could go on. Long story short, the Sanctuary was told it had to do certain things in order to be in compliance with the law and they didn’t do it. When it fell through the cracks due to other priorities, the Sanctuary opted to operate as if nothing was wrong when in fact they were being given extensive leeway in terms of fixing various problem areas. And no, it’s no coincidence that they were shut down in correlation to this exhibit, because it was what brought it to the city’s attention – not the content of the exhibit, but the fact that they were having one at all.

Responsibilities, folks. They’re real and they’re a bitch.

More later…

  1. March 12, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    I think there’s some misinformation going on then, because according to the Sanctuary, they actually passed the inspection and was given confirmation on this. I do know there’s some back and forth on this issue between Troy and the Sanctuary, however, I do trust the people I know over there. They have a pretty good rep at being honest with me.

    Also, I don’t know how this works in the City of Troy, but for civil service and appointed positions in the state, one is legally unable to organize or participate in certain types of protests. Its so that there isn’t even an appearance of a bias.

    • March 12, 2008 at 10:33 pm

      Right. And stuff like this is the reason why, so that there isn’t the appearance of conflict when something like this happens.

      There’s definite misinformation, but I wouldn’t be surprised that there was either an incorrect (and irresponsible) assumption made or an exaggeration on the part of one person that has in turn led to others reporting it as truth. Much like the assumption Pierce made that sending a letter some time ago saying he wasn’t done with the work he needed to do to legally house public exhibitions and never receiving a response somehow constituted an okay to resume operations in the first place.

  2. March 13, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Metroland has a different view on the Mirch/Code Enforcement connection.

    From the article: According to a source who asked to remain anonymous, Mirch, who has a reputation of using code enforcement for political retaliation, told a fellow demonstrator to not worry, that code would be visiting sanctuary in the morning. Mirch emphatically denied this. “That’s ridiculous. Jesus Christ. I can’t compete with lies,” he said. “You wanna poke me in the eye, let’s do it with facts on a truthful basis.”

    The next morning, however, Pierce received a phone call from the Troy code department beginning, “I work for the City of Troy code enforcement. I was told to call you and speak to you.”

    Pierce was informed that, without significant repairs to the sanctuary’s exterior and some interior doors, at a cost of more than $14,000, it would have to be closed immediately. Now, the city has changed its demands, telling him that he has until April 10 to make the repairs. Pierce has no idea what will happen if he can’t meet that deadline.

    “We haven’t gotten anything in writing from the city,” Pierce said. “The story has been continually changing. Forty-eight hours ago, everything was fine; 24 hours ago, we had to close immediately.”

    Pierce has contacted the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

    Members of the Troy City Council have suggested an investigation into the legitimacy of the code department’s actions, and whether it was an act of political retaliation.

    “For years, there have been stories about this administration abusing code enforcement, to suppress people’s First Amendment rights,” Pierce said. “They should investigate on behalf of all the citizens of Troy.”

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