Roosevelt Island Arrest

Yuji Agematsu

      Sunday October 2nd 2005 I was arrested while shooting video footage of the scenery of Midtown Manhattan from Roosevelt Island. That my camera was pointing to the UN building; that I had climbed over the handrail of sidewalk and gone down to the river bank that is the property of New York State; that I neither had a permit of shooting of video nor ID – these, the police claimed, were the grounds of my arrest.

Handcuffed I was taken to the substation of the island. Video camera, keys of my apartment, wallet, cigarette, etc. – all I had were taken away. Belt and shoelaces of sneakers were removed. I was made to sit with handcuffs, while they inspected the video footage. The scenery of the East River and the buildings -- just everyday scenery -- was there. I reminded them of the fact that there had been two people fishing and even a man talking a nap on the same property. Though the two fishermen had been gone when I was arrested, the napping man was still there. Ignoring my point, they said that whatever the objects were the act of shooting video was highly criminal today. Alas! I had never known that. And I still don’t believe it!
      I told them my name and address, nationality, job, and so on. But without the ID nothing was proven. I wondered if my feature that often gives the impression not necessary of a Mongoloid that I am but of other racial orientations caused this trouble. And especially my thick black beard . . .

Around 5:30 PM I was transferred to the Astoria 114th Station. I was so hungry that I had to ask the officer in charge for something to eat. He demanded some change to buy potato chips from a vending machine. I ate them with much appreciation. The officer told me to call a Japanese person and speak the language to prove my nationality. So I did call a Japanese friend and apprise him of my situation. Nonetheless to my surprise, the officer could not care less about my speaking the language. I wondered from the beginning if he really could distinguish Japanese from Iroquoian. But if not, why did he bother with the exercise?
      I was taken out from the cell to face detectives for interrogation. I was excited that the opportunity had arrived for my defense. There were a male and female pair detectives, behind whom however were two men in dark suits glaring at me. The FBI or Homeland Security? In either case, dreadful as they are, they seem to be the superiors.
      “What did you shoot? And for what purpose?”
      Watching the video footage together, my apologia began. Assuming that I was a suspect of terrorism, I stressed that I was shooting video as an artwork and explained my intensions therein as clearly and simply as possible. One of the detectives asked me which art school I had attended. I never went to art school. I have been working in the art world as a lowest physical labor force, and that was the way I learned art. So the answer was expressly: “None!”
      They continued the interrogation. “What food do you like?” Whoa! Following the stereotype deliberately, I answered that I liked Sashimi as other Japanese do. I overheard one of the dark suits guys’ whispers to a detective as if a reminder or teaching: “There are Moslems even among Asians.” Oh yes, we all know very well that many Mongoloids in the Western part of China are Moslems and dedicated ones. But so what! Then he declared: “after all we do not know who you are!” I was brought back to the cell.

After 10:00 PM I ended up being in jail in the South Entrance Hall of 100 Center Street in Manhattan. After having stayed two nights I was released around 4:00 PM on Tuesday October 4th. My charge was “trespassing on New York State property, but with six month probation.” Which is to say, if I do not commit any crime in the coming six months, my charge will be annulled. I could have been released with the charge of trespassing within twenty four hours, but I chose to stay forty eight hours with the chance for probation and to have my record cleared.
      After I came out and was welcomed by my friends, I learned that my name had never been registered in the central bookings. A few of my friends worrying about my whereabouts in the criminal system called the office several times and the answer they got was unequivocally negative. They all feared that I might be kept and interrogated in a special detention facility for foreign terrorism suspects. Finally to their relief, an attorney found my case in the list of the arraignment record ex post facto. Both my friends and I have deep discontents with my arrest. We believe that the case definitely requires further clarifications. First: is shooting video without permit truly a crime, as opposed to fishing and taking a nap? Second: does the Us Government have the right to incriminate anyone without registering his name if he is a foreigner? Third: they have not returned my video camera and the footage.
      All in all, what is so dreadful today is this everyday urban landscape where shooting pictures of the city is considered suspicious act and non-Caucasian immigrants are increasingly deprived not only of their rights but also of their existential dignity, and furthermore that many New Yorkers seem to be getting used to this as an inevitable outcome of 9/11. I will continue my artistic shootings of the urban space and so will I be a foreigner, a Japanese. I cannot but sustain these existential traits so essential to me so long as I am. So far Japanese have been the least politically engaged group of people residing in New York. But that climate is over if shooting pictures and being non-Caucasians are prone to incrimination like this.

Edited and translated by Sabu Kohso