Fake Banksy in Washington Heights Highlights Traffic Violence, Police Complicity

Is this stencil piece in Washington Heights the newest Banksy? At first glance, it sure looks the part: the lines are clean enough, the 1-800 number is there, and it even riffs on one of the street artist’s most iconic images, replacing the “Protester“‘s bouquet of flowers with a motorcycle helmet in reference to the undercover cop who smashed a car window during a motorcycle chase last month.

But upon closer inspection, it’s clear that some things aren’t right. Most obviously, is the art itself, which bears obvious stylistic differences to Banksy’s pieces. The work also sports a different phone number than the one the artist has used. And upon calling the number, you’re greeted with an audio guide that’s a good facsimile of Banksy’s, but clearly not the real deal. The speaker is clearly a different person, and rather than the self-deprecating jokes and art-world satire offered by Banksy’s narrator, this one gives a straightforward explanation of how the work should be interpreted.

After explaining the connection to the motorcycle chase and the NYPD, the narrator states takes a tangent, discussing police harassment during monthly Critical Mass bike rides.

“This particular piece seems to be commenting on the NYPD’s active role in traffic violence, which kills more than 250 New Yorkers every year,” he says. “When undercover police officers take up helmets and smash windshields, and off-duty cops drive drunk and kill pedestrians…it should be no surprise that they show up at the scene of children being run over by reckless drivers and declare: ‘no criminality suspected.'”

What gives?

Painted next to the phone number is the number “1,” a tool Banksy has previously used to direct his fans to the correct audio guide. Press “1” after calling this number, however, and you’re directed to the voice mailbox of one Keegan Stephan, an NYC-based activist who has worked with Time’s Up! (the organization behind Critical Mass) and helps run the recently-opened Bike Yard in Havemeyer Park.

The piece’s emphasis on transit jibes with the nature of the work Stephan has done in the past. This year, Stephan and other activists with the group Right of Way have made several unsanctioned memorials dedicated to pedestrians killed by drivers who were never charged with any crimes.

It’s clear that this is another work of guerilla art by Stephan. And while it isn’t quite Banksy, it makes a vital commentary on the state of transit and policing in our city.

UPDATE: Here’s newly released footage of the cycling activists putting up their “Cranksy” piece–which they say was stolen last night–like its straight up legal:

(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)