Old emergency call boxes in Brooklyn are now memorials for victims of police brutality

Folks walking around The Plaza at 300 Ashland in Brooklyn will notice a series of vintage emergency call boxes peppered around the park. The items, which were found on sidewalks all throughout the city in the 1990s and used to alert police stations about crime and violence, have actually been repurposed into video and audio testimonies from people who, according to an official press release, have “experienced violence at the hands of the very authorities meant to protect them.”

The six, seven-feet-tall boxes art part of an exhibit by artists Bradley McCallum titled “Witnessing.” On display through January 2023, the public art project is presented in partnership with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and Dumbo Art Fund.

The show features testimonies from and about eight New Yorkers that were killed by authorities: Anthony Baez, Nicholas Heward Jr., Anthony Rosario, Hilton Vega, Yong Xin Huang, Anibal Calderon, Frankie Arzuaga and Nathanial Levi Gaines. The installation will also feature interviews with activists, family members and police officers.

McCallum is no stranger to the topic of police brutality. Two decades ago, the artist collaborated with Jacqueline Tarry to present “Witness: Perspectives on Police Violence,” a project similar in form to this year’s iteration.

Photograph: Courtesy of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership

“The re-imagination of this project calls attention to the fact that despite the significant amount of time between the two projects, there has been no significant reduction in the death rates of people of color by the police,” reads the press release. 

“I hope the public climate has shifted enough for people—especially the authorities, politicians and policymakers—to understand Witnessing as a monument to our shared humanity,” McCallum said in an official statement about his work. “As the father of a mixed-race son who is now 19 years old, I appreciate first-hand the fear that comes with systemic racism and the challenges we face in policing our democracy.”

Associated programs will also take place in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art (MoCADA). Learn more about it all right here.

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