August 22, 2005

Judge rules New York can’t ban graffiti party

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A judge on Monday overturned a ban
imposed by city officials and ruled in favor of a fashion
company's right to hold a street party featuring graffiti
artists painting mock subway cars.

The party, scheduled for Wednesday by designer Mark Ecko,
had raised the indignation of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
who said the plan for 20 artists to put graffiti on mock subway
cars would incite vandalism.

But in Monday's ruling U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said
the mayor's view went against the First Amendment.

"By the same token, presumably, a street performance of
'Hamlet' would be tantamount to encouraging revenge murder," he
said in federal court in Manhattan. "As for a street
performance of 'Oedipus Rex,' don't even think about it."

The judge said he was not suggesting the "actual painting
of graffiti on subway cars is to be condoned" but that any
heavy-handed censorship would fall hard on artists, "who
frequently revel in breaking conventions."

Outside the courtroom, Ecko, 32, a former graffiti artist
and founder of fashion company Ecko Unlimited, described the
decision and the judge as "kinda cool."

"It (the event) should not be dismissed as easily as
vandalism or inciting crime and was born from the fabric of the
streets of New York," he said, while inviting the billionaire
mayor to the party.

Alan Ket, 34, one of those who will paint one of the mock
subway cars, said the street party, which will be open to the
public, would be "an opportunity to see some of the artists
people around the world call folk heroes."

Officials initially approved the event but pulled the
permit last week when it drew Bloomberg's ire.

New York City spokeswoman Kate O'Brien Ahlers said the
ruling was disappointing.

"We believe that the city's denial of a permit to an
exhibit which glorifies criminal activity was proper and should
have been upheld," she said.

Ahlers said officials were considering an appeal.