I first learned about Lafayette artist Salvador Perez on September 12. Sal is an artist who was arrested for using his art to make a political statement in Lafayette, Louisiana.
In his article 9/11 ‘vandal’ still in jail; cavalry mounts, Walter Pierce reported:
“Thirty-five-year-old Salavor Perez, known variously as Sal and Ace, had a hearing Friday morning during which a judge let his $11,000 bond remain the same and ordered a public defender be appointed to the rogue artist. Perez is facing charges of criminal damage to a historic building (the memorial is a building?) and criminal trespassing (in a public park?) — charges that aren’t sitting well with some in the community who, while they might not condone Perez’s message, support his method.
‘I believe heavily in freedom of speech and artistic expression; it’s something that’s recently been shown to be under constant attack,” says Crawford Comeaux, 30, Lafayette programmer/techie. “I don’t feel that had the content of what he’d done been different and more appealing to the masses, he would be receiving the treatment that he’s receiving right now.’
Perez’s content — painted cardboard airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center beams and a President George W. Bush effigy holding a wad of cash in one hand and remote control in the other — conveyed the assertion that the United States Government orchestrated the attacks of 9/11 in pursuit of darker albeit vague goals. It’s known as the 9/11 Truth Movement — adherents are often mockingly referred to as “truthers” — and it has been a robust undercurrent in American conspiracy theory since virtually Sept. 12, 2001.
Comeaux says he isn’t a truther, but supports Perez’s use of art in generating public discourse. “I don’t ascribe to the theory; I kind of think that what he did was, yeah, a little bit distasteful and potentially disrespectful, but at the end of the day that’s not what we define our laws by — we don’t define our laws based on whether or not I agree with your opinion or find it in poor taste.”
Perez’s case has garnered international attention. England’s Daily Mail picked up the story, peppering its coverage with negativity in referring to Perez’s actions as a “callous crime” and a “vile prank.”
We inspected the monument closely Wednesday afternoon after the cardboard pop art had been removed by police and, aside from a few scuff marks that might have been caused when the beams were climbed to affix the airplanes, there’s no discernible damage to the monument and certainly no lasting damage. So, we wonder aloud, is the criminal damage charge really warranted here? Comeaux also pointed out that wreaths, flowers and other tokens were placed at the monument and created as much damage as the “art” Perez is accused of placing there. It really is the message, right?
One IND reader, in an email to us, registered his frustration:
Did 9/11 take place in Lafayette? Does the monument pertain to any aspect of cultural history in Acadiana? Does a Bush quote in French make sense on a monument to an event that inaugurated such vehement anti-French jingoism, to the point where a people of French origin ignored their own cultural history? It’s just a piece of tourist kitsch.
Comeaux and others are trying to raise money to cover Perez’s bail and to hire him an attorney to fight the charges. They’ve established a Facebook page, SpringSal, as well as a Twitter account @Spring_Sal and are seeking donations.”
The installation included cardboard planes with references to New World Order conspiracy theory. The cardboard cutout of George W. Bush that did not appear to be touching the monument shows him holding a remote control and a wad of cash. The art implies that “9-11 was an inside job” and even if people disagree with the message, this arrest and 11k bond is still an attack on the First Amendment.
Image from KATC
Sal Perez faces criminal charges for adding cartoon commentary to and around a 9/11 sculpture in downtown Lafayette. The memorial is in Parc San Souci, a public park. There are no fences or ropes around the memorial. Since the installation was removed, the memorial has been adorned with wreathes, balloons, and notes, which police and government have no problem with. However, Sal’s ridiculously high bond is set at 11,000. A public defender is currently handling the case, and at this point it’s unclear what building he’s charged with damaging. At times the memorial itself has been referred to as a “building.”
Right now, the Spring Sal support network is focusing on is trying to bail him out of jail. They still need over $400, but they’ve been working round the clock to raise what they have so far. On Saturday, September 14, a creative demonstration about Free Speech took place at Lafayette’s downtown artwalk. Supporters welcomed those attending artwalk to exercise their First Amendment and express themselves by writing on cardboard speech bubbles.
It’s difficult to understand the charges Sal is facing without considering that they are politically motivated.
The charge “Criminal Destruction to a Historic Building” includes the highest bond – $10000. The “destruction” might be from when he allegedly damaged the roof of a building in Park San Souci when the put up the 3rd installation near the 9/11 memorial (a cardboard sculpture of a rat with a missile). Neither the building nor the 9/11 Monument is listed as historic in the National Register under Lafayette or under National Historic Landmarks.
It is unclear at this moment whether the monument is being considered a “building.”
The other two charges are both Criminal Trespassing and each include $500 bond. One of the criminal trespassing charges might be for allegedly climbing on the building that isn’t listed as “historic” near the 9/11 memorial. I have not seen any evidence of the alleged damage to that building. The other criminal trespassing charge appears to be from a recent incident that happened when Salvador was allegedly caught trying to sleep in an abandoned building. The building he was trying to sleep in was a closed down Mexican restaurant on Johnston Street in Lafayette and was not historic.
He was trying to sleep there because he is homeless.
These charges are possible due to the wide interpretations of “graffiti” and “defacing” as defined in Section 1. of R.S. 14:56.5 enacted by the Legislature of Louisiana, which defines crime of criminal damage to historic buildings and landmarks by defacing with graffiti.
Criminal damage to historic buildings or landmarks by defacing with graffiti
A. It shall be unlawful for any person to intentionally deface with graffiti any historic building or landmark, whether publicly or privately owned, without the consent of the owner.
B. As used in this Section, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
(1) “Deface” or “defacing” is the damaging of any historic building or landmark by means of painting, marking, scratching, drawing, or etching with graffiti.
(2)”Graffiti” includes but is not limited to any sign, inscription, design, drawing, diagram, etching, sketch, symbol, lettering, name, or marking placed upon any historic building
or landmark in such a manner and in such a location as to deface the property and be visible to the general public.
There is no mention above as to whether the symbols need to be permanent or adhered to the landmark in a way that makes them hard to remove. It appears that being visible to the general public could warrant a “Criminal Destruction of a Historic Building” charge.
The “crime” in question is reminiscent of sidewalk chalk or “chalkupy” arrests. Sidewalk arrests also target creators of non-permanent art that gets labeled as criminal graffiti or criminal destruction of property. In Florida a federal court declared that writing political messages in chalk was protected under the First Amendment. Hopefully the political speech expressed by Salvador Perez in the form of cardboard sculptures will receive similar protection.
If someone had decorated the monument with cardboard hearts and angels that said “Never Forget,” it’s highly unlikely that the artist would have been arrested. If someone had put an American flag on it, I doubt they would have been arrested.
The Daily Mail notes that Perez’s “criminal history also includes charges ranging from disturbing the peace to resisting arrest.”
I’ve watched the Spring Sal network grow over the past few days, and hope many others will view Sal’s arrest as a violation of the First Amendment and an attack on political speech.
His support network has started a Spring Sal Facebook page with the following description:
We feel [Salvador Perez] Ace was unjustly charged because of the content of his art. We’re passionate supporters of our freedom of speech, regardless of our personal feelings about his art. We are raising money for a legal defense fund for Ace because artistic expression must be preserved.
Click the FundRazr button on our page to donate now!
Earlier this week, the support network stated: “We feel that it is unjust to place limitations on what can and can’t be placed on public spaces based on political views. At this moment there are wreaths, notes and balloons taped to the monument. The city is ok with that but not this political art just because they find it offensive.”
Supportive letters for Salvador Perez can be sent to the following address:
Lafayette Parish Corrections Center
Salvador Perez: 13-9085
PO Box 2537
Lafayette LA 70502
Hopefully, Sal’s support network will be able to #SpringSal is collecting donations for bail @ http://bit.ly/springsalnow
With love and solidarity,
The loss of freedom for one is a loss for all. Jail support is hard on the heart. We are activists, actively agitating against the world as it is currently established. Only a part of that conflict takes place in our streets. The majority takes place in our hearts, and our love of and for our fellow humans bolsters us through the cold nights in and outside of jails. It soothes us as we nervously wait to visit our friends who have been taken from us. Just as Occupy Chicago is the glue that binds the systemic struggles together, jail support keeps us strong and dedicated to one another, even through the heartbreak of visiting comrades through walls and television communication units.
~ Quote from Natalie Solidarity