By The Other Side Arts
DENVER -- Denver Police targeted The Other Side Arts, a non profit art center as part of an effort to, "clean up the neighborhood" just before the Democratic National Convention. On Sunday afternoon, a number of police officers from Denver and Aurora Police Departments appeared outside of TOSA, some dressed in riot gear, and begin to investigate the property. They asked one of the residents if the cars parked along side our building belonged to them and began asking about the graffiti pieces on the building. The police were told by the resident that the cars belonged to TOSA artists and that the graffiti pieces were done by local artists with the permission of the organization. They were also told that the creation of one of the pieces was even commissioned by the organization and documented as a time-lapse video on our website. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAB6kMPWf0Q
TOSA has a long history with providing graffiti artists with space to create their pieces in a society where graffiti is under appreciated and misunderstood. After about an hour went by, the police proceeded to paint over all of the art pieces on the building. They entered the property and went through items in storage and destroyed TOSA signs in an effort to remove small "tags." They removed the organization's dumpster which also had some "tags" on the side of it and removed other private property belonging to another tenant of the property. One of the artists in the building was pressured by police to chain a gate which then blocked a fire exit and investigated the political art show "UnConventional" that was hanging in the gallery. The goal of the show was "to spark dialogue between diverse communities around our current political climate and how it affects the future of our country." Though the name of the exhibition is the same as a loosely organized protest group, there was absolutely no connection.
When the executive director, Crissy Robinette called officials to find out what happened, she was told that the organization was targeted by police because they had evidence that radical protesters were using the building. The City of Denver agency, Denver Partners Against Graffiti denies any record of the incident despite witnesses that saw their vehicles. On their website, the Denver Partners Against Graffiti have a policy that states: "The city must have a signed authorization form to remove graffiti from private property." http://www.denvergov.org/DenverPartnersAgainstGraffiti/AboutUs/tabid/384234/Default.aspx By the time the "clean up" was finished, there were so many officers on the site that an RTD bus had to pick them up.
This is the second time the organization was targeted by police. In May of 2002 the Denver Police Department responded to a fundraiser organized and benefiting Breakdown Book collective, another non-profit organization, that rented space at TOSA. At around 11 p.m., just as a DJ was firing up the turntables for the hundred or so peaceable attendees, a police helicopter and eleven squad cars arrived, reportedly in response to a noise complaint. The attendees were told to disperse or the police dogs would be let loose on them.
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