Almost two months after artist Oriel Ceballos was tackled, pepper-sprayed and arrested by park officers in Washington Square Park, Ceballos says he feels confident that his case will be dismissed at his next hearing on Jan. 5.
Ceballos, who has been selling his art in Washington Square Park for almost three years, was taken into custody by three park officers in October, an incident which led to outrage by some who felt the use of force was excessive and unnecessary. At the time, Ceballos was told his infraction was selling his art without a table, something for which he had received a ticket previously but never been arrested. After asking the officers to give him a ticket, he was forcefully detained. The altercation was filmed and posted on Instagram by Tisch first-year Griffin Wood.
“They kept shouting ‘stop resisting, stop resisting,’ and I kept reiterating, ‘Why am I under arrest?’” Ceballos told WSN in October. “No one said yes, no one read me my Miranda Rights, I was disturbing the peace in no way. This is not an arrest, this is an assault.”
Following his first hearing on Nov. 13, Ceballos told WSN he feels confident that his case will be fully dismissed at his next hearing on Jan. 5.
He said, after the altercation, he later found out he was being charged with assault and resisting arrest.
“The charges are pretty clear and strong — that I’m choking someone,” Ceballos said. “But the video, the evidence shows that there’s none of that occurring. So I just feel like once they see the video […] it’ll put the nail in the coffin, it’ll solidify the case. So I’m just super hopeful.”
Part of Ceballos’ hope is because of the amount of support he’s received from visitors to Washington Square Park, members of the NYU community and others who have seen the video of his arrest online.
“Oriel and all the other artists are amazing artists who deserve to be treated well,” Tisch first-year Amrut Ayyala said. “The only reason they’re being targeted is because they are minorities. I’m 100% behind them.”
CAS sophomore Sara Zenko agreed that the force used against Ceballos seemed unfair considering there are many other artists that promote their artwork without tables.
“I felt like [the incident] was very targeted, like maybe it didn’t make sense because it was unequal treatment from many other artists that are still present in the park,” Zenko said. “So why exactly him? It just didn’t make sense to me.”
Similarly, LS first-year Adelaide Miller saw a connection between Ceballos’ arrest and other instances of police brutality and law enforcement targeting people of color. One example is stop-and-frisk laws that disproportionately affected black and brown people and were deemed unconstitutional in 2013.
“I feel like it’s sort of part of the pattern of arrests that seem targeted toward people of color that seem random, and for crimes that aren’t really crimes,” Miller said. “They’re just petty things that you could get arrested for, but aren’t really hurting anybody.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union recorded over 7,000 cases of stop-and-frisks in the first half of 2019. Of that number, 60% of those stoppdwere black, 29% were Latine and 10% were white.
One of the most notorious New York cases of police brutality took place on Staten Island in 2014. Eric Garner was choked and killed during a police arrest, and his death became part of the national movement of protesting police brutality with Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” immortalized as part of the movement’s rally cry.
Ceballos said his artwork has become more political since his arrest.
“For the past month, I’ve been painting images pertaining to my arrest, so I’ve been going back to more political subjects,” Ceballos said. “I feel like I’ve changed in the sense that I am trying to take the opportunity and I see the greater purpose, given that I almost died. I’m painting as if I have no time.”
Additional reporting by Lisa Cochran.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, December 2, 2019 print edition. Email Ronni Husmann at [email protected]