NYPD Faces Class Action for its Rampant “Graffiti” Removal Program

Steven T. Lowe

New York City, NY, USA – October 1, 2013: Hipster male walking next to a wall of graffiti in Brooklyn, New York, US.

On June 1st, 2021, Michael McLeer, an internationally known NYC street artist, represented a class of artists in a federal court class action. According to McLeer, a new New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) street cleanup program is unconstitutionally wiping away graffiti without asking property owners if they wanted the art removed.

In his complaint, McLeer alleges that the NYPD’s graffiti removal program violates the Visual Artists Rights Act by willfully destroying a work of visual art. In addition, McLeer alleges that the NYPD program violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In April 2021, the NYPD painted over McLeer’s mural “Death From Above” without notifying him or asking the property owner for permission. McLeer claims to have had permission from the property owner to paint “Death From Above,” but the NYPD painted over the mural and asked questions later. If they had asked questions first, it would have been made clear that all interested parties wanted the mural to remain, according to McLeer.

The lawsuit seeks to halt the NYPD’s graffiti removal program. The complaint alleges that the NYPD unilaterally decides what street art to paint over.

Author’s Note: There is amazing artwork on hundreds if not thousands of buildings in New York City. This indiscriminating destruction of art by the NYPD is truly a tragedy. The lawsuit was filed as a class action on behalf of hundreds of artists whose works are in danger.

McLeer is represented by Juyoun Han, Eric Baum, and Ayo Alston-Moore of Eisenberg & Baum LLP.

Counsel for the NYPD has not been provided at this time.

The case is McLeer et al. v. New York City Police Department, case number 2:21-cv-03093, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

* Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is an entertainment and business law firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The Firm has extensive experience handling cases involving art law, having provided top-quality legal services to its clients since 1991. The Firm is recognized for its many achievements, including successfully litigating many high-profile cases.

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