Friday Question of the Day

suspicious cuddler, originally uploaded by a nameless yeast.

By now most people have heard of the Columbia Heights Metro closing on Tuesday due to a “suspicious package”. And of course the suspicious package was a stuffed “homeless” polar bear. And we learned that it was actually a Greenpeace/Mark Jenkins Collaborative art project. You can see a quote from Jenkins here.

The quote by Jenkins from Fox 5 says:

“My intention with this project was to leverage my street installations to promote awareness about the issue of global warming and the plight of the polar bear,” said Jenkins. “It was our shared goal that the public would develop empathy for the polar bear as they have for the homeless which we see as two connected issues.”

So the FQOD is: do artists/organizations involved with public art displays have a responsibility to alert the authorities of such displays? Or did the authorities irrationally overreact? Obviously there is hindsight now, but who knows what threats they may receive on a daily basis. Also, do you think this particular display is an effective one?

36 Comment

  • Irrational overreaction. Probably a training exercise, or a joke played on a new bomb squad guy. Bomb squad guys are actually pretty humorous, I’m sure…

  • So the FQOD is: do artists/organizations involved with public art displays have a responsibility to alert the authorities of such displays? Or did the authorities irrationally overreact?

    Why does it have to be one or the other? The cops overracted. But they wouldn’t have overracted if Greenpeace had said, “Hey, we’re putting some ‘art’ over here. It won’t explode.”

    And what’s to prevent the next “artist” from unload sacks of manure with pictures of a Dick Cheney goate on them all over town?

  • Not sure how I feel about the whole thing, but I’m pretty sure that the DCPD or feds or whoever couldn’t just say, “No, no, that suspicious package is cool, we got a call from someone at Greenpeace that said its just art” cause I’m pretty sure that someone who wanted to be up to no good could make the same phone call.

  • I think they should have notified someone.

    Also, this homeless polar bear man will surely get stares, but I’m sure the general public will soon begin to conveniently not see him either just like all the other homeless on our streets every other day…

  • saf

    Paranoia will destroy ya…

    The cops over-reacted. They always do.

  • Complete overreaction. Clearly the terrorists have won.

  • Meanwhile across town the Bin Laden Mannequin art installation out front of the White House went completely unnoticed. Oh my bad I thought this was a caption contest.

  • I’ll just say that I walked past this that morning before the swat team was called in and I immideiatly got it and thought to myself. “this is the kind of thing that makes living here so rad”

  • The police overreacted? really? wake up people, this is common practice everywhere, not just in DC. Every large package, regardless of shape etc. that is obviously placed and left in a public place is considered suspicious until it is proven otherwise. ESPECIALLY when it is in a place where there was a recent bomb threat, as there was a few weeks ago.

  • not only should they have alerted the authorities of their intentions, but they should have had to aquire a permit to install something on a public street. dont restaurants have to go through hell to get seeting on the sidewalks? dont we have to fight tooth and nail to get a trashcan on the corner? why should green peace get to throw this up on a whim, with no beuracracy?

    and as for the popo over reacting… i think they did exactly what was appropriate and expected by society. we can roll our eyes and criticize it now that we know that is was over a stupid political stunt, but had the authorities done nothing and this bear thing blown up and killed people…. well then the same people here lamenting the ‘stupidity’ of the lock down would have been the first ones calling to arms over the negligence of our law enforcement.

  • seating, damnit, seating…ugh, wheres my coffee?

  • Can the police remove the Green Peacers from downtown that solicit me whether I’m on my phone, listening to headphones, talking with a coworker, or clearly trying not to make eye contact. I’m just trying to get some lunch and yes I see you every day. I’m all for the environment but no “I don’t have time to save my favorite planet today.” Sorry.

  • I think it was funny, and I wouldn’t have heard about it unless the police overreacted and it was plastered all over the news. Other Polar Bears were placed around the city too. But they didn’t receive quite the same reaction as this one. Great PR strategy, though.

  • I have to agree with JnDC – I don’t think a single phone call was going to ease the police’s mind and, honestly, I don’t think they were overreacting. Now if I saw giant panda figurine, my first thought would certainly not be “bomb”, but then again my first thought on Sept.11 (after just the first plane had crashed) was not “terrorism” either. That’s why I’m a happy civilian and not anything more law-enforcing. I’m hardly advocating a police state – just that police be reasonably suspicious. Now that they know the pandas are art, they can move back to putting people’s lives at risk speeding through marked crosswalks.

    But OB’s comment is the best so far. Sidewalks are crowded enough without annoying kids begging for money.

  • Who knew terrorists were furries?

  • Who would you notify anyways? I’ve been notifying the police for months and years about a violent bunch of kids down the block, and obvious case of child abuse around the corner, drug dealing, etc. To date, nothing is done beyond a cop car driving by and reporting all is well. So, what’s the office for ‘this is not a bomb this is a political statement’?

  • Yeah — every terrorist website I go to suggests disguising your dirty bomb by making it the most conspicuous thing on the street. No wonder the police went crazy — in the last six months alone hundreds have been killed by exploding camels dressed as displaced Bedouin, “elephants” which may or may not have been disguised as guerrilla protests against the illegal ivory trade and/or Ringling Brothers, and land sharks posing as Candygram delivery personnel.

    Cops need to get a grip.

    And we don’t need no stinkin’ permits.

  • Fairly low-key compared to the Boston PD one day last year, after “suspicious” lite-brite screens appeared all over the city. They thought all of the things were bombs and basically shut down the city. That was a serious over-reaction. Turns out it was a marketing campaign by the Cartoon Network.

  • do you frequent a lot of terrorist websites irving street? maybe the cops should get a grip on you.

    i think this sort of guerilla artfare would be more efficient if the real message wasnt overshadowed by confusion (not that eco terrorists are that efficient anyway, as they only seem to annoy the hell out anyone in ear shot). if they had been required to register with a simple permit then the only problem would have been having to look at this pos everyday until someone kicked it over. but instead, they had to be cool and clandestine and really stick it to corporate america by smacking us across the face with the cold hard truth of the plight of the bear *eye roll*, while causing strain and loss of resources on our already overly taxed authorities…

    everyone loves anarchy until someones kid gets blownup by a homeless polar bear.

  • I agree with whoever said, “the terrorists have won.” Next thing you know they will be called in for empty Popeye’s bags strewn along Georgia Ave. Please stop living a paranoid life – it is the best revenge.

  • I personally think what they did was pretty entertaining and it definately got more attention this way. A stuffed ‘homeless’ polar bear is interesting, but the debacle that the authorities and media made over the situation brought much needed press to an issue which gets a polite nod from industry, government, and individuals but not much action. As an art peice I think alerting the authorities would have taken away from the alarm which I believe the artist/activist was trying to garner from the general public. Its better to aplogize for than ask permission to break the rules in this situation.

  • When I hear “landshark”, I always think about my ultimate frisbee days:

  • to shut the metro station down is clearly overreacting as the “suspicious package” (ha, that ain’t no suspicicious package, its a freakin’ stuffed bear) was pretty much a block away. and the fact that it had been there for hours by the time the cops were called is foolish too. i took the metro about 10 minutes before they shut the station down and my overall feeling is whatever all the activity was about was for nothing. that just the overall feeling i felt in the air (and my mind). boy was i correct.

  • I think they definitely overreacted. If it was a bomb wouldn’t the terrorists want to put it in a place with a lot of people like the bus or metro as opposed to next to a trash can where nobody wants to hang out?

  • I don’t really understand who benefits from a stunt like this other than the organization or artist who puts it into place. If I had seen this I would have thought “wow, that’s creepy” and once I heard about the whole evacuation/dismantling of it I thought “wow, that’s a waste of time/effort/taxpayer money.” (I think the response was sadly appropriate, I’d rather be safe than sorry by risking people’s lives.)

    My guess is that this didn’t bring “awareness” about global warming to anyone — it’s a PR stunt for attention by the artist/organization, and I really doubt it did anything constructive to teach anyone about the issue or change anyone’s opinion on global warming. Media attention does not mean that the stunt was successful — I can think of other more effective ways than this. (and yes, this is from someone who has been concerned about global warming way before it was “cool” to do so.)

  • LOL at Fellow Petworthian.

  • I totally agree with DC-Chica and couldn’t agree less with Saf’s comment of “The cops over-reacted. They always do.” They never react when I call them! Have the time they don’t show up whatever illegal activity I’ve called about is long over!

    At least they showed up and did their jobs- I think they can’t/shouldn’t be criticized for that. I think its a shame and a waste that it was needed, but what if it was an actual hazard to public safety- and the metro station stayed open! There is a reason that such plans and protocols are established- they aren’t for our convenience, they’re for the greater safety of our communities. And thank god they aren’t “open to interpretation” by whoever is on duty or in the office that day.

  • “i took the metro about 10 minutes before they shut the station down and my overall feeling is whatever all the activity was about was for nothing. that just the overall feeling i felt in the air (and my mind). boy was i correct.”

    You should hire that vibe out to the bomb squad – whenever someone reports a suspicious package, instead of investigating it, they would send you out there so you could just, y’know, BE there for a minute and tell them whether there was any danger or not. This would, of course, save resources and prevent needless metro closures.

    Similarly, Thor should sell his services to the CIA, inasmuch as he is so sure he knows what terrorists would or would not do.

    Someone called in a suspicious package. The police responded to the call. They didn’t know what the bear was, so they closed the metro. Then they determined it was safe and opened it up again. This is, of course, exactly why they have suspicious package hotlines, and exactly what you expect cops to do when someone calls it. Is it symptomatic of a general ratcheting up of fear and paranoia in the last decade? Sure. Is that bad? Yup. Did the cops do something wrong on that day at that time? No.

  • Better to ask for forgiveness than permission. MPD overreacted. (And who here would like to call up the nearest police station and try to explain to one of their lazy, surly, non-English-speaking officers why you’d like to display a stuffed polar bear outside a train station? That conversation would get nowhere).

  • CP: do you really know of officers who speak something other than English? What precinct? Cuz we need them at times in the area where I live, all our officers only speak English and it causes all sorts of problems…

  • better to ask for forgiveness than permission? holy crap, i hope you do not have children….

  • Does anyone here actually live in the neighborhood. Mark Jenkins has been doing these installations for years. This is the first time the police have ever reacted (at least, to this degree) So yes, it was a bit of an overreaction.

    And yes, Greenpeace likes it when authorities react like this – that’s what they are trying to do. It gets their message to a much wider audience. If anyone cares, the police are making Greenpeacers sit next to the installation on capitol hill 24/7 to prove that it won’t blow up.

  • Those bears were totally unrealistic. Too damn skinny.

    If they were trash can eaters, then they’d big and fat like the native DC rats.

  • this should be a poll

    total overreaction

  • they don’t shut down Sherman Ave. every time a gang-banger memorial of giant stuffed animals is duct-taped to a lightpole midstreet. do the local gangs call ahead and get a permit?

  • Anon 4:20

    For the record, those memorials aren’t necessarily gang related. It could just as easily be a pedestrian killed at an intersection. It’s many individual’s way of showing acknowledgement. However, your overall point does not go unnoticed.

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