Wanted is a community-based art project that address the criminalization of youth in America. It is presented in an art exhibition as well as on the streets of Harlem, New York. It resembles a series of police wanted posters which each features a “police sketch” of a young adult, a description of them and a statement of what they are wanted for. For example “On Saturday May 17, 2014, at approximately 12:30 AM, a male black, 16-24 years of age was wearing a black waist length jacket and dark pants. The male was observed engaging in conversation with other males. The police allege that the suspect moved suspiciously when officers approached…“
Through laws and police enforcement, the US has criminalized a generation of Black and Latino youth. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world with 2.4 million people imprisoned. Most of those are Black and Latino, with 1 in 9 Black men aged 20-34 in prison. In New York, by March 2013, the New York Police Department had stopped and frisked over 5 million people, most of whom are Black or Latino, the overwhelming majority who were completely innocent.
The sketches of the youth on the Wanted posters were drawn by a former police sketch artist, based upon descriptions from adults who only briefly saw the young person they described. Like the drawings on actual police wanted posters, the sketches are simultaneously specific and generic. The text on the posters are based on actual non-illegal activity that youths are frequently stopped by police for.
The posters are displayed in inside of the 2014 exhibition If You Build It, organized by No Longer Empty and presented in partnership with Broadway Housing Communities. In addition to the exhibit, young community activists are taking the Wanted posters out to the community to have hundreds displayed in bodegas, barber shops, pizza joints, etc. They will have conversations with the owners and employees in the establishments about why they want to place a Wanted poster in their store. Through hundreds of conversations, a dialogue will develop about how young people are targeted by police.
An aim of the project would be to have people step out and embrace the youth in this community. It is vital to “come out of the shadows” and be visible and declare that being young and living in Harlem (or Brownsville, Brooklyn or South Central LA) is not a crime. We, with our faces have nothing to hide. The last line on all of the posters reads “The suspect is wanted by his family, friends and neighbors.”
Please feel free to download and post Wanted posters in your community. Wanted is conceived of by Dread Scott and developed collaboratively with No Longer Empty, The Stop Mass Incarceration Network and young adults in Harlem. The sketches were drawn by Kevin Blythe Sampson.