An artist and anti-prison activist staged a protest against the prison system today, welding himself inside a steel cage in front of the Manhattan Detention Complex in lower Manhattan.
Lou Weinstein was in the area around 12:20 p.m. Sunday when he spotted artist Lech Szporer, 33, in the cage at the intersection of Centre and White streets. "The cage was welded shut and he was wearing a prison uniform and handcuffs," Weinstein told us. "The man would not speak but when asked questions by bystanders and police presented a card that read: 'Hello my name is Lech Szporer. This is an art performance. Nothing against you but the system needs to change. I'm not talking without my attorney.'"
In a press release about the event, Szporer explained that he decided to do the project today because it is the anniversary of the day the first penitentiary was established in the United States. He wrote:
I am staging this disruption because the scandal of mass criminalization, incarceration, and neglect in America is horrific, inhumane, and an issue of grave urgency. Not only do we need to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 - We should abolish prison as the dominant mode of punishment and move toward a non-retributive, reconciliatory, restorative justice to address the issues prisons attempt to address but cannot. By displacing the caged person from behind the walls to the middle of the street, and rendering what is too often invisible visible, I hope to add some emotional depth to the public discussion on prison reform, mental health, and race in America.
According to Weinstein, a woman (you can see her in the fifth photo above) tried calling his attorney, but there was no answer. It took three officers to slide the cage to the sidewalk. "The scene was roped off as they waited for a chainsaw to arrive," Weinstein said. "An officer handed the artist a blindfold for his safety and other officers sawed him out of the cage. The police then removed the artist's handcuffs and put on their own."
Szporer has staged transcontinental art projects in the past and runs a music education nonprofit. Police say he has been charged with obstructing governmental administration, disorderly conduct, obstructing traffic, and creating hazardous conditions.