Fox News Article Leads to Harassment of Jack Shainman Gallery and Dread Scott

"It points out how fragile and tenuous my life is," the artist says.

Dread Scott, A Man Was Lynched By Police Yesterday (2015). Courtesy of the artist via Facebook.

New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery and artist Dread Scott received a round of menacing phone calls and emails, including one that expressed a hope that the artist would be murdered, after Fox News published a story last week with the title “Art gallery stands by anti-police violence flag in wake of deadly Dallas shooting.”

Following the police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, Scott hung a banner reading “a man was lynched by police yesterday,” outside the gallery on July 8. The artwork updates a Civil Rights–era flag that the NAACP used to call attention to lynchings in the late 1930s; Scott added the words “by police” this time around.

The flag was installed in conjunction with an exhibition benefiting For Freedoms, a political action committee formed by artists Eric Gottesman and Hank Willis Thomas.

Dread Scott, On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Genocide and Slavery, performance, 2014.Photo © Mark Von Holden.

Dread Scott, On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Genocide and Slavery, performance, 2014. Photo © Mark Von Holden.

Fox’s un-bylined article cites “renewed criticism” of the banner in the wake of the July 7 murder of five police officers in Dallas. It quotes Patrick Lynch, president of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, who said, “This so-called ‘art project’ is based upon a lie and perpetuates a falsehood about police officers and their use of force.”

The day the story ran, Scott received an email stating: “I hope someone lynches you. You are not an artist you’re a piece of shit.”

“I never get used to threats and I don’t accept them,” Scott told artnet News by phone, “but it is part of the job description. We live in a profoundly polarized world where a very few control the wealth. When you call out the defenders of a system based on exploitation and oppression, they react.”

Scott has long addressed injustice in his work, focusing on issues like police brutality and mass incarceration. In an article for Creative Time Reports, he called for “a world that doesn’t need cops to enforce an unjust, exploitative, and racist order.” In a project planned for 2017, he will enlist hundreds to participate in a reenactment of an 1811 slave uprising, partly to raise awareness of a little-known historical event, but also as a metaphor for liberation.

“The police have taken over the role of lynch mobs,” Scott said, “and when this particular person sees that pointed out, he says, basically, ‘We need to wind the clock back, and you should be killed, complete with torture, as a message to the other uppity Negroes.’” He continues, “It points out how fragile and tenuous my life is.”

It’s not the first time Scott has been threatened. One of his early works invited gallerygoers to tread on an American flag. After showing it at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1989, the artist received death threats against him and members of his family.

“I hope that I don’t get killed this time around,” Scott said. “I’ve got a 19-year-old son I want to see grow up. To think that I could miss out on that, and that he could miss out on having a father, and that my wife could miss out on having a partner because of the ideas I express, it hurts. But it’s not about me. It’s about changing the world that has monsters in it and that grinds people up.”

On Monday, July 11, gallery director Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels told artnet News in a telephone interview that the gallery’s phone began to ring off the hook. Many callers simply hung up. Others profanely criticized the banner and the gallery.

“The tone was that of people who do crazy things,” Bellorado-Samuels said.

Emailers called the gallery staff and the artist “morons” and “pigs,” and many expressed the hope that the police would be unresponsive should the gallery be in need. One read: “Just another piece of racist crap. You call this art, maybe if you are strung out on drugs, but to a normal person, it is garbage.” Another stated: “You are all one collective piece of shit. If you ever dial 911, you are also hippocrites.” One included the declaration that ““ALL LIVES MATTER!!!”

Bellorado-Samuels said the NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau alerted local officers, who regularly drove by to check up on the staff. While the officers she spoke to weren’t pleased with the banner, she said, they did have a respectful conversation with her about it.

As soon as the story receded from the lead spot on Fox News’s website, Bellorado-Samuels said, the calls and emails subsided, although the staff also received this email: “You will have blood on your hands for flying that flag but people like you live on publicity, and to you, there’s no such thing as bad publicity or fanning a fire. I hope God forgives you.”

Fox News did not immediately respond to artnet News’s request for comment on the harassment.

The gallery removed the banner after the landlord threatened legal action, saying that the nails used to secure it to the building’s façade could result in structural damage and violated the terms of the gallery’s lease.

Despite the setback, the banner will rise again, this time under the auspices of Cleveland nonprofit venue SPACES, which will display the flag at the record and book store Young Kings this week, during the Republican National Convention, no less.

“When galleries step out to do the right thing, it’s important that people have their back,” Scott said. “The flag becomes a dividing line—which side are you on?”

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