By Farran Powell and Carla Zanoni
DNAinfo New York Staff
INWOOD — The NYPD dispatched cops with paintbrushes to cover up a controversial mural on the side of an Inwood business Tuesday, after approaching the owner with concerns about its message, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.
A pair of plainclothes officers arrived at New Edition Cleaners at 4929 Broadway at 11 a.m. Tuesday, armed with buckets of black paint, rollerbrushes and drop cloths, and began painting over local graffiti artist Alan Ket's five-day-old mural titled “Murderers.” The two identified themselves as police to a reporter.
The mural, which included the word "murderers" painted above several tombstones and coffins with epitaph names that included the NYPD, the Environmental Protection Agency and global corporations including Halliburton and Monsanto, was painted on the wall of the business with the permission of its owners.
Officers visited the store on Monday, telling owners that the painting needed to come down and calling the message a "bad idea."
"I can't confront them, because I don't want problems," New Edition Cleaners owner Marina Curet, who has owned the business for five years, said in Spanish. "There is no freedom of expression.
"It's a bomb, and now here I am in the middle of a bomb."
According to law enforcement sources, the decision to remove the mural came after neighbors complained about its "violent" message — with bullet holes in the word murderers and tombstones.
Police said they were applying a "broken windows" approach to addressing quality-of-life concerns voiced by local residents.
Curet said she has been allowing artists to paint the side of the bulding for the past four years. She said she has never had a problem with police in the past.
"They were accusing those kids of conspiring against the government and that it was bad for the neighborhood," said Curet's daughter Flora Curet, 30. "They're just expressing themselves."
The mural is the work of local graffiti artist Alan Ket, a 41-year old Inwood resident. Ket has been painting murals on the side of New Edition Cleaners ever since he noticed the graffiti-laden brickface and decided to take responsibility for the wall.
“I decided to adopt the wall since I was already a customer there, and promised that I would do something good,” Ket said.
He said his topics have touched on political issues before. He said this mural was inspired by the Broadway musical "Fela!" about the life of Nigerian afrobeat founder Fela Kuti. One of the scenes of the play includes a parade of coffins dubbed with the names of organizations that commit atrocities in Africa.
He decided to do something closer to home, focusing on police shootings in New York City.
“I was inspired by the unarmed Ramarley Graham shooting in Bronx and the trend in police shootings,” said Ket, who painted the mural with two guest artists.
Marina Curet told the police officers when they arrived that she had given the artist permission to paint the wall and that he had offered to remove it himself.
But officers painted over the mural within four hours, even leaving midway through for a lunch break.
Residents came out swinging in favor of the right to free speech.
"Isn't great art supposed to be controversial?" said Ian Lang, 48, a Hudson Heights resident, as a he snapped a picture of the mural before the police painted over it.
Inwood resident Richard Herrera defended the artists' right to paint his message.
"We shouldn't be as concerned with the subject matter as we should be with the fact of the matter that the police abused their authority and basically bullied people to censor art," he wrote on Facebook.
Artist Gina Cruzco also wrote on Facebook, "I was stunned and impressed when I first saw the mural. Shame on those who can't tolerate the truth."
Others didn't weigh in on the mural itself, but questioned the local 34th Precinct's decision to devote two of the eight officers on duty at any given time in the area to painting over art.
"You're telling me we don't have better places to patrol?" said Inwood resident Maria Delgado. "This doesn't seem like a fair use of resources."