As part of “Deputies,” Cameron Rowland’s solo show at Essex Street, the artist devised an installation titled Life and Property (2021), which consists of five radio scanners tuned to frequencies used by police across each of New York City’s five boroughs. In the space, their exchanges can be heard in real time; recordings that document the previous day's transmissions are posted as downloadable audio files to the gallery's website.
On contextualizing his motives for the project, Rowland states a salient point that's worth remembering (and repeating): "Internal documentation of the police that is produced by the police is only available at the discretion of the police. External documentation of the police is essential to understanding what the police actually do."
During last summer's Black Lives Matter protests, scanners picked up what purported to be NYPD officers saying, about protestors, to "run them over"; in a seperate instance, someone interjects, "shoot those motherfuckers," to which another voice responds, "don't put that over the air." An NYPD spokesperson told reporters that an internal review was underway, but subsequent public updates as to the speakers' identities never materialized. That the de facto institutional response to alleged police misconduct, regardless of any evidence, seems aimed more at warding off further scrutiny than providing the public with answers suggests deep-seated corruption has been baked into the system at large.
In a pamphlet accompanying the exhibition, Rowland expounds on how, in the United States, the basis of policing as an institution is inextricable from its original role in enforcing the white citizenry's control over slaves. Between the 17th and 19th centuries—and as recently as the 20th century—Black people who died in New York City were laid to rest across burial grounds. As Black people were more or less unable to own land on Manhattan, these sites were overtaken by subsequent development, memories of their existence lost to history.
To commemorate five such burial sites that have since been rediscovered in the more recent past, Rowland placed five unmarked benches in Seward Park, located near the gallery. The park is named after Andrew Johnson's secretary of state, who orchestrated constitutional limitations on Black people's emancipation. —Rachel Small
Cameron Rowland, Description, 2021.
New York Herald, January 16, 1803
Matching a description in the vicinity of a reported crime is often considered sufficient to meet the standard for reasonable suspicion.