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A Brief Digression in Appropriation: 1157 Wheeler Avenue, Bronx, New York 10472

These photographs have been appropriated from the real estate sites Zillow and Trulia. They were part of a listing to sell a multi-family home in the Soundview section of the Bronx in early 2016. Each picture is printed at 100 percent of the size in which it was taken from the site. The sizes are 4x6 inches at 72 dpi. The poor quality in part suggests they were made with an early low-resolution digital camera or shot on the lowest settings. I have titled each image simply the necessary information provided in the listing: For Sale: $599,000 (7 Beds, 4 Baths, 3,360 Sqft) 1157 Wheeler Avenue, Bronx, New York 10472.

1157 Wheeler Avenue was the home address of Amadou Diallo and his family, who settled in the Bronx, having emigrated from Guinea in West Africa. In 1999 Amadou Diallo was shot and killed by four plain clothed NYPD officers at this location. You may remember the story. The officers approached Diallo as he entered the vestibule of his building because he apparently fit the description of a serial rapist. Police claim that as they advanced toward Diallo he reached into his pocket and pulled out what they believed to be a gun. The four officers infamously fired 41 shots in total, 19 of which fatally struck the 23 year old. It turned out Diallo was unarmed and had been reaching for his wallet to show identification. He was heading home after working as a street peddler in Union Square, where he sold VHS tapes, hats, gloves and socks. Officers Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon and Kenneth Boss were charged with second-degree murder and found not guilty at a trial in Albany a year later.

I was 18 years old at the time and having grown up in the Bronx remember the moment marked by heated debates and demonstrations around the city. I remember my uncle, who worked nights at the 44th precinct, describing how decisions of life and death are made in a fraction of a second. I remember Pat Lynch, the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association calling to boycott a Bruce Springsteen concert because he wrote a song memorializing Diallo. The State Fraternal Order of Police president called Bruce a "dirtbag" and a "floating fag." I remember chants of "Its a wallet, not a gun" from thousands of New Yorkers marching through lower Manhattan after the officers were acquitted. I remember the feeling of dejection the next day when the protests received little coverage by the press. Mostly, I remember Rudy Giuliani vehemently defending the officers and condescendingly reminding the public of the decreased overall crime statistics during his term as mayor, seeming to imply that this was collateral damage, a tragic anomaly with no reasons to ask questions about racism, profiling or standard police tactics. Seventeen years later, due in large part to the omnipresence of built-in video cameras in cellular phones, we’ve seen incidents involving the killing of unarmed black men by police with disturbing prolificacy. As I write this a cop in Baltimore has just been acquitted in charges related to the death of Freddie Gray.

What led to me finding these images? I recently discovered that in 1992 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art commissioned the photographer Lewis Baltz, an artist I admire greatly, to produce an archetypal view of the Los Angeles cityscape. Baltz, a native of Southern California and known for his grids of impeccable black & white landscape photographs, responded by making a 48 x 96 inch Cibachrome photograph of what appears to be an ordinary intersection in the outskirts of Los Angeles. The photograph 11777 Foothill Blvd, Los Angeles 1993, is the exact site of where Rodney King was brutally beaten by the police, which upon release of the video footage, famously ignited riots across the city. This discovery, along with a string of recent events involving Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddy Gray, to name a few, triggered a curiosity to look back at the incident which occurred in my own home borough, at a time when we were all asked to give the police the benefit of the doubt, that this was an aberration. The first result in a search of Diallo’s address was a New York Daily News article from 2009 about a tour guide bringing buses full of European tourists to the place of Diallo’s death. The next several results were real estate sites like the aforementioned Zillow and Trulia listing the building for sale. To be certain, I matched a photograph I found of Diallo and his brother in their home with the same painted window frame as the interior bedroom picture on Zillow. Another picture I found of several police officers in beige trench coats confirmed the exterior of the building. I came to these pictures knowing what happened there. Needless to say, there was no mention of the incident in the listing. 

Real Estate has always been a major industry of New York, but it has never been more incongruous, if not altogether perverse, to the vast majority of its citizens than it is today. Vernacular real estate images, crime scene photographs and appropriated pictures have respectively all played a role in the history of art photography. Here we see a somber affiliation of all three. Finding these pictures provoked several emotions and questions about value, progress, and the fact that someone bought the building despite what could only be described as the failure of the photographs. The house sold for $565,000 and the listing has since been taken down.