Shellyne Rodriguez (2022). "On the Subject of Defiant Mobility."
Preface: Mr. Fenton and I disagree, but I appreciate his response. I have included his reply below, so that this page presents both sides of the story.
|Date:||Tue 03 Oct 2023|
|To:||Reuven Fenton (NYPost)|
|Subject:||High School Journalism for Shellyne|
Dear Mr. Fenton,
You got the guilty plea that you wanted yesterday. You can stop celebrating.
Instead of congratulating you, I am writing to share the advice that my advisor gave me when I was a 17-year-old high school journalist.
For reference, linked here and attached is a news article (27 Jan 1993) with an account of his advice to me. I invite you to read the article and compare my high school journalism with your coverage of Shellyne Rodriguez.
Our student newspaper routinely covered school board meetings and commented on the issues that affected us as students. We often interviewed politicians. And in the course of our reporting, the school board president yelled at four student journalists on four separate occasions.
Yes. The school board president yelled at us. Four times.
After the fourth occasion, we decided to write an editorial about the way she was treating us. And we would have published it, but our advisor encouraged us to give her an opportunity to respond.
So instead of publishing it, we sent her a letter with a copy of the proposed editorial and we gave her a whole month to respond. We wanted to meet with her and interview her (like other journalists).
She never responded. And because she never responded, we intended to publish our editorial. As you'll see in the news article, our editorial got censored, but reached a much larger audience.
Comparing those events 30 years ago to your coverage of Shellyne Rodriguez today, I remember that our advisor encouraged his student journalists to give the school board president a whole month to respond.
And I'm writing to share his advice with you. Instead of driving to someone's home with a freelance photographer and a car full of cameras at 7:30 in the morning, please give the subject of your interview a proper opportunity to respond.
Pro tip: If you're going to surprise someone, it's better to surprise them with coffee than photography.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. In the future, I hope you will interview people like a high-school journalist.
ps: As your NYPost colleagues reported, the terms of the deal that she agreed to yesterday will wipe her record clean. She'll complete the counseling and avoid trouble as the terms require. And then her record will be clean.
As you said in your own video: "I don't believe that she, for a second, that there was ever any intention to actually do me harm."
|Date:||Tue 03 Oct 2023|
|From:||Reuven Fenton (NYPost)|
|Subject:||Re: High School Journalism for Shellyne|
Eryk, thank you for your letter. I always appreciate when someone takes the time to organize their thoughts, and you went the extra mile with the citations. Look, all I can say is that in the fast-paced word of NYC journalism, I'm like a short-order cook. Today's news is yesterday's history, and I'm obligated to try for interviews as quickly as I can. If I gave her a month to respond, the story would have been ancient. Also, it wasn't 7:30 a.m. I think it was around 10:30. And I was with one photographer with a single camera. (His car is equipped with dash cams, which he installed for his safety). And I was gentle and conciliatory on the doorknock, believe it or not. Brandishing a machete was not cool.
STAFF REPORTER, New York Post
That's what Mr. Fenton said. And what I would say in response. "Quit harassing her."
I earned a doctorate from the CUNY Graduate Center and I spent 16 years teaching at CUNY colleges.
When a place where I had spent so much of my life appeared on television screens around the world, I began looking for information about the event that occurred at a place where I spent so much of my life.
I wanted to know what really happened. I wanted to know the truth. I knew nothing about Shellyne Rodriguez prior to the news coverage. After the news coverage, I wanted to know everything about her.
Maybe I feel distressed because we both live in New York City. Maybe I feel distressed because we taught at the same university. Maybe I feel distressed because we have had similar experiences.
In my distress, I began searching for the truth. And as I searched, I typed what I found into her Wikipedia article.
What I found was a professor who cares about her students. I found an artist who cares about her community. I found a wonderful person.
And I found an NYPost article (23 May 2023 at 4:18pm) which describes her as a victim of police violence. The article quoted from the lawsuit that she filed against the NYPD, while simultaneously accusing her of violence against an NYPost reporter.
Two weeks later, a Wikipedia administrator suddenly became interested in my edits to her Wikipedia article. He suddenly found a bunch of policy violations.
Among other warnings, he told me that it is inappropriate to include content for the purpose of "trying to support someone who [I] feel has gotten an unfair treatment." On that basis, he removed content from the article, so that a victim of police violence would get an unfair treatment.
Her teaching schedule disappeared. Her final exam schedule disappeared. The cheers of the Fox News studio audience disappeared. Accounts of petitions and fundraisers disappeared. And all information about her lawsuit against the NYPD disappeared.
But the Human Rights Watch report on what happened in Mott Haven is still available at their website.
And below is the version that I had hoped to include in Wikipedia. I tried to give her a fair treatment. I included all relevant information. Nothing has disappeared.
While writing, I assumed that the NYPost reports contain a list of facts, but omit context. With that assumption in mind, I searched for the missing context and information. And I found it easily.
In 2014, Rodriguez attended the Shandaken Project Residency in the Catskills of New York. In 2015, she was artist-in-residence in the sculpture department at Hunter College. In 2017, Rodriguez collaborated with the Museum of Modern Art to create the Night Studio program, a free art class for New York City residents in the process of taking the TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion, formerly the GED). In 2018, Rodriguez was awarded the Percent for Art public sculpture commission to create a permanent public sculpture in the Bronx. Shellyne stated that the sculpture would serve as "a monument to the people of the Bronx." In 2018, the Whitney Museum of American Art released a video by Rodriguez in which she discussed Ja'Tovia Gary's film An Ecstatic Experience.
In 2019, Rodriguez became the inaugural artist-in-residence at The Latinx Project, an initiative based at NYU that is dedicated to Latinx studies. Rodriguez curated a show centered around ideas of displacement and how it affects the Latinx population in New York. The show included pieces by Rodriguez, Alicia Grullón, and anti-gentrification group Mi Casa No es Su Casa.
Rodriguez is a community organizer and an active member of the grassroots collective Take Back the Bronx. In March 2019, Rodriguez joined a group of Latinx scholars, artists, and activists in penning and signing a letter to El Museo del Barrio demanding change at the East Harlem institution.
Rodriguez is a member of Decolonize This Place and spoke at the ultimately successful May 2019 protests against Warren B. Kanders, owner of the defense manufacturing company Safariland LLC and then-vice chair of the Whitney Museum of American Art, seeking to remove Kanders from its board.
In an essay in which she describes herself as a "black Marxist", Rodriguez criticizes the practice of equating identities with "injury" and awarding "immunity" to people with the most identities, calling it a "lazy politics that doesn't require one to do any critical thinking or political work." She argues that "it is a system based on the state's logic of restitution and punishment, and fundamentally opposed to solidarity." What she prefers instead is political organizing and activity.
According to the New York Post, the NYPD arrested Rodriguez in June 2020 during a protest after George Floyd's death. The charges against her were dismissed in September 2020. Human Rights Watch describes the protest at Mott Haven (where the NYPD arrested her) as "among the most aggressive police responses to protests across the United States following the police killing of George Floyd." The organization found that the NYPD planned the assault and mass arrests of peaceful protesters.
The following year, Rodriguez and two other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the City and members of the NYPD for long-term injuries suffered as a result of the arrest. According to document 49 of the case, on January 25, 2023, Rodriguez requested the identity of several police officers and video recordings from body worn cameras. After a discovery dispute throughout the month of May 2023, the court on May 31 ordered the defendants to identify the officers and produce the video.
During the Spring 2023 semester at Hunter College, Prof. Rodriguez was teaching a combined section of ARTCR 23500 "04 Painting" and ARTCR 33600 "05 Advanced Painting" which met on Tuesdays from 1:10pm to 4:50pm. The section had a combined enrollment of 16 students (11 in Painting and 5 in Advanced Painting).
During the same semester, Students for Life brought their This is Chemical Abortion tour display to Hunter, which the organization describes as one of the "most visceral college campuses" where campus safety officers are a "welcome presence" and where they make videos of the vulgarity directed at them.
On Tuesday, May 2, 2023, after pro-life students set up a display in a hallway near Prof. Rodriguez' classroom studio, they recorded her arguing with them and shoving their pamphlets off of a table. In the recording, she said they were "triggering [her] students."
After meeting with two members of the Hunter College administration about the matter, Rodriguez apologized. Not satisfied, Students for Life posted the video to Twitter on May 17, to YouTube on May 18 and to their website on May 18. According to Hyperallergic, Rodriguez began receiving messages filled with "racial and sexual slurs and threats of death and physical violence."
In accordance with Hunter's final exam schedule, her combined painting section's last class session was on Tuesday May 16 and they should have held their final exam on Tuesday May 23.
Meanwhile as the video gained attention on social media, the New York Post published a story about it on May 22. Then the next morning, on May 23, before Prof. Rodriguez could leave home and travel to Hunter College to give the final exam to her students, a New York Post reporter and a photographer went to her home to interview her and take a photograph of her. Rodriguez refused. According to the reporter's own account of the incident, she told them to "get lost." Instead of leaving, they persisted with their request for an interview. They did not leave until she opened the door, pointed a machete at one and told them to: "Get away from my door! Get the fuck away from my door!" Rodriguez then followed the journalists to their car, where the car's cameras recorded her chasing them with machete in hand.
The New York Post published a news article about the incident at 1:45pm. In the article, they quoted a Hunter College spokesperson as saying that the college had "taken immediate action" and fired Rodriguez. At 4:18pm, the New York Post published an article about her civil lawsuit against the City and NYPD officers. And later that evening, when the New York Post reporter appeared on Hannity, studio audience members cheered as host Sean Hannity reported that she had been fired.
The next day, May 24, other news outlets, like the BBC, reported that Rodriguez had been fired from Hunter College following the incident with the New York Post reporters. And on May 25, Rodriguez was arrested on charges of menacing and harassment and fired from her position at the School of Visual Arts.
A petition in support of Prof. Rodriguez drafted by PPOW Gallery co-founder Wendy Olsoff and published by Hyperallergic quickly gathered hundreds of signatures. A coalition petition gathered 1259 signatures. And to support Rodriguez, a committee of artists and educators established a fundraiser which raised $22,000 of its $30,000 goal in its first two weeks.