Volume 19 • Issue 14 | August 18-24, 2006

Officer clarifies Soho artist comments

First Precinct Community Affairs officer Rick Lee says one of his published comments criticizing Soho street vendors in a recent Downtown Express article was taken out of context.

Officer Lee said his first quote in the article published July 21 - 27, “Soho street artists brush with police,” was a summary of the view some Soho residents have of vendors, and not his own personal views.

“They’re rude, they urinate in doorways, they’re vulgar, they fight, they’re drunk,” Lee was quoted as saying in the article written by David Spett.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Lee said last week.

Lee did not dispute any other quotes in the article, in which he also said of Soho street vendors: “Probably they all violate the law. Every day for 14 years there’s been a problem.”

He also said “The community basically doesn’t want the artists at all. The world has changed, it’s not 1969 anymore, and they [residents] don’t want these people in front of their million-dollar condos.”

Lee did not contact the paper until 2 1/2 weeks after the article first appeared in the Express’s sister publication, The Villager, on July 19. Both papers published two letters to the editor criticizing Lee’s comments the following week. He said he was not aware of either of the front-page articles or the letters until several residents confronted him about the comments at the precinct’s Aug. 1 crime-prevention fair.

Downtown Express editors are confident that Lee does not believe that all Soho art vendors are violent, drunk or vulgar. The telephone interview with Spett was not taped so we cannot say with 100 percent certainty that Lee made the comment in the context we reported.

We believe that if Lee’s recollection of the interview is accurate, it would change the tone, but not the essence of his view. Lee stands by his statement that Soho street vendors have caused a daily problem for 14 years and that probably all of them violate the law.


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