Sadly, the news regularly reports stories of people wrongfully cuffed, threatened, and in some cases killed by police. The frequency should horrify us, but the regularity may numb too many to the news of yet another example of injustice.
Today I learned this happened to an acquaintance of mine last month. I have known John for over 30 years.
John Sims is an artist-in-residence at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art in Columbia, S.C. His work is political and provocative, often featuring Confederate flags and other white supremacist icons turned upside-down, with colors changed, burned, buried, strung from gallows, etc.
Sims’s current work, “AfroDixia: A Righteous Confiscation,” includes a piece with five flags from Confederate states hanging from a gallows. Beside the gallows are five urns, symbolizing the ashen remains of the confederate flags. Behind the gallows are the same flags, now displayed in red, green, and black, the colors of the Pan-African flag.
John Sims, Five Flags: A Group Hanging
Unsurprisingly, he and his works are often the object of threats and violence from people who wish to protect and/or proudly display these icons of the Confederacy and white supremacy.
Columbia police in South Carolina enter the apartment of artist John Sims with guns drawn. (Photo: WLTX)
Around 2 a.m. on May 17th, police entered Sims’s apartment, next door to the art gallery where his work is displayed. Guns drawn and yelling commands, they woke Sims up and ordered him to turn his back to them. He did not comply because he thought they were white supremacists posing as police officers wanting to vandalize and destroy his work.
He requested to photograph the officers but was denied. This was one of several rights denied Sims. He was handcuffed for at least 8 minutes before police finally determined he was, in fact, the artist-in-residence and had permission to be in the building.
How close did my friend get to being seriously injured or killed? Too close.
I have not mentioned Sims’s race. Do I need to?
Here are two news reports you may read. The first includes a video from his dangerous encounter with the police.