Black artist in Columbia, South Carolina was held at gunpoint,
handcuffed and detained by police officers who thought he was an
intruder in his own apartment and art gallery.
and activist John
- a Detroit native and Sarasota, Florida resident whose work explores
the Confederate flag and other symbols of white supremacy - is an
artist-in-residence at the 701
Center for Contemporary Art
(CCA) in Columbia, next to the University of South Carolina.
A Righteous Confiscation,
which is on display at the 701 CCA until June 25, is part of a series
of his work throughout the South, and a culmination of his 20-year
Featured in Sims’ exhibition in Columbia is Five
Flags: A Group Hanging,
which displays reimagined Confederate flags hanging from nooses on a
gallows. The Confederate flag flew at the South Carolina State
Capitol in Columbia until 2015, after pro-Confederate gunman Dylann
killed eight Black members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
exhibition “confronts the ideas and symbols of white supremacy
and visual terrorism, Confederate iconography, propriety of Southern
Heritage, and transformative ritual in the context of the African
American experience,” according to the artist. His works and
performance pieces will also appear at the Houston Museum of African
American Culture, the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, and the Tampa
Museum of Art.
nearly 2 a.m. on May 17, police entered Sims’ apartment, which
is adjacent to the 701 CCA art gallery, because the side door of the
building, which is normally closed, was open. This, according to both
an incident report and a separate press release issued by the
Columbia Police Department.
searched the building, guns drawn in accordance with department
policy and procedure, and yelled verbal commands ordering the person
to come out and identify themselves. Police saw Sims, whom they had
awoken, in the loft overhead, and they ordered him to drop his
cellphone and hold up his hands.
also ordered Sims to turn his back to them while his hands were up,
to which he did not comply because he thought they were white
supremacists were posing as police officers and had come to vandalize
his art exhibtion. First, at [that] point I didn’t know they
were cops. I thought there were neo-confederates,” Sims said.
“Either way I would not turn my back to cops or anyone,
especially if they haven’t been identified.”
had requested that he take photos of the officers with his phone,
which the police denied him - “the only misstep” in the
way the officers conducted themselves, according to the CPD press
release. Meanwhile, the police incident report and the police press
release have inconsistencies in information. While the original
police report omitted any mention of Sims’ request to take
photos of the incident, the press release fails to mention the
officers entered the apartment through a closed and unlocked door.
was in my bedroom in the upper loft in the dark. The issue of
suppressing my Civil Liberty to record the event. This is a serious
‘misstep,’” Sims told theGrio.
and detained for eight minutes, Sims was released once the Columbia
PD determined he was an artist-in-residence and had permission to be
in the building. Sims, who became known for burning
and burying the Confederate flag
on Memorial Day, has also spoken against police violence.
a police culture suffocates the voice of justice, why should I trust
the police with my body? Why? If resisting and cooperating bring the
same outcome - death - what am I to do, especially if good cops
cannot stand up to bad cops? When there are no internal moral checks
and balances, you become a pack of animals in an uncivilized
wilderness motivated by fear and the naked power to punish and
destroy,” Sims said last June in a commentary
in the Orlando
“You become the judge, jury and looter of Black bodies. You
become a virus of racism and white supremacy. You become the face of
a broken America.”
Sims now plans to release an “Artist Incident Report” and
an open letter to the Columbia Mayor and City Council. “On the
eve of the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, this incident
affirms to me in the most real way that American policing, profiling
and the persistent fear of death when Black folks face the police, in
the streets, their cars or their art space or in their beds, are the
enabling elements that promote white supremacy and Black
subjugation,” said Sims of his recent incident.
I am very glad to be alive I know many have never made it out alive.
While I am very fortunate to have a platform to respond, many are
silenced or ignored. The time has come for American policing to be
held accountable and reconstructed in ways that puts common senses
and humanity first and racist maneuvers last.”
commentary was originally published by The