Myth 1

"Seattle is a tolerant, enlightened city."

Seattle artist's protest misread by paranoid cop, DA calls for Death Penalty

Two days before the explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, Seattle was already gearing up for it's own Oklahoma City-style debacle. The only problem was there was no problem. Well, except for one small incident blown completely out of proportion by the City's Finest.

Jason Sprinkle, a member of a local arts cooperative, had been commissioned by the Job Corps to construct a metal scuplture for the Corps 25th anniversary. Sprinkle built a huge heart. The Corps rejected it. In a gesture of protest, Sprinkle, known in the arts community as Subculture Joe for his guerilla art activities, loaded the heart into the back of his pick-up truck, drove to Westlake Center (in the "heart" of downtown), shut off the truck, punctured its tires and walked away. People watching the street action laughed.

Unfortunately, the humor was completely lost on a street cop. As he began to inspect the truck, he found some graffiti scrawled on a bumper. It read, "Timberlake Carpentry Rules (the Bomb)!" Turns out the graffiti had come from another art project some two years previous -- a Job Corps project. And "the Bomb" was the name of the pick-up truck. (Any old car buff can tell you how common a term that is.) The cop, however, saw the pick-up as a 20-foot Ryder van filled with fertilizer. In a matter of minutes a nine block area was evacuated and cordoned off. It took four and a half hours for the Seattle Police Department to discover it was just an art project. (Most of that time was spent getting a bomb robot from Boeing Field, then tinkering with it because it didn't work.) Meanwhile, Spinkle was on the phone, trying to get through to the Mayor's office and the Seattle Art Commission to explain it was nothing more than a sculpture. His phone calls were refused.

It didn't take long before Sprinkle was arrested. He was held on $100,000 bail and charged under an obscure new Washington law, "Intimidation with an Explosive." Doesn't matter that he neither intimidated nor employed explosives. Nor did he ever make a bomb threat. But you can't talk to a man with a shotgun in his hand, and Smackwater Jack, aka Norm Maleng, arch-Republican and King County Prosecutor running for governor, lathered himself into a rabid frenzy.

"It is not a prank. It is not artistic expression," bellowed Maleng, renowned art critic, from his perch high atop the King County Courthouse, where he cleverly sat disguised as a gargoyle. "Sometimes acts speak louder than words."

Well, you got that one right, Norm. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. Maybe that's why Sprinkle tried to call attention to his rejected art in a decidedly non-violent fashion. But in a town ruled by Norm Maleng, Norm Rice (mayor), Norm Stamper (Chief of Police) and the Nor(m)dtrom family, you learn pretty quickly what the trouble is with Norm et al.

This is not to say that what Sprinkle did was necessarily a great idea in this humorless, grey, paranoid town. But absent any malicious intent, how do you justify locking up someone and cutting off his nuts simply to cover your own stupidity and overreaction? Sprinkle may be short on common sense, but Maleng has no clothes. Nor any balls of his own. To quote a line from an early Bob Dylan song, "A lot of people don't have much food on their plate, but they've got a lot of knives and forks and they gotta cut something."

Perhaps the most disgusting exhibition comes not from Hang-'em-high Maleng, but from the downtown merchants who claim to have lost money during the bogus evacuation, including new glitz-hype palaces Nike Town and Planet Hollywood. Nordstrom's, in particular, who just last fall blackmailed the electorate into re-opening Pine Street to vehicle traffic after millions were spent to make it a pedestrian mall, whined they lost $20,000 an hour during the closure. They want Sprinkle to pay restitution. They want a big payback from a 26-year-old starving artist with ADD. Hey, Nordstrom's, you bunch of greedy assholes! Here's some math for you:

$20,000 an hour X 12 hours/day=$240,000
$240,000 X 365 days (not counting extended Christmas hours)=$87,600,000

That's right, you jerks. You're bitching about .0002283 percent of your annual earnings from one store. You won't mind, I'm sure, if I take my business elsewhere. You obviously won't miss it. Maybe I'll buy some of Sprinkle's art.

UPDATE

Four weeks after Jason Sprinkle's arrest, he was released on O.R. when a King County Judge ruled that Sprinkle was "not a threat to the community." That's right, we locked this guy up at taxpayer expense for 36 days, when everybody KNEW he wasn't a threat to anyone but the egomaniacs in the DA's office. Okay, you're thinking, they got their pound of flesh, covered their asses, and now they can let the guy go, right? Wrong!

Like hyenas ravaging a cold corpse, the law-and-order shock troops continue their relentless march to the sea. From an obscurely-placed inside article in the October 30, 1996 Post-Intelligencer comes the following bit of insanity:

Judge refuses to dismiss bomb scare charges against Sprinkle

"King County Superior Court Judge Ricardo Martinez refused yesterday to dismiss criminal charges against performing artist Jason Sprinkle, whose art project precipitated a bomb scare in downtown Seattle July 15.

"Sprinkle's lawyer, Michael Danko, argued that the state had not provided any evidence that Sprinkle intended to intimidate or harass anyone by parking a truck with the word "bomb" painted on it in Westlake Park. In fact, there's plenty of evidence that he intended no such thing, Danko said.

"Martinez said prosecutors had provided enough evidence to go to trial. The trial is scheduled to begin November 12."

So let me get this straight. The guy's not a threat, but he IS a criminal??? We're going to prosecute him for WHAT??? WHY??? And who's paying for this stupidity? Maybe we should all contact the Prosecutor's office and ask those very same questions. That number in Seattle is:

(206) 296-9000 voice or (206) 296-0955 fax

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE! DA COPS A PLEA!

On November 1st, Sprinkle and the DA's office struck a plea bargain. Sprinkle pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass in exchange for prosecutors dropping the felony bomb scare charge. You gotta love this quote from the P-I:

"King County Prosecutor Dan Soukup said prosecutors agreed to the lesser charge because the goal was to hold Sprinkle responsible for what he did and get the case resolved."

HOO-ah! Thanks, dad. Now can I have the car keys?

Maybe someone with higher authority finally informed the knuckle-draggers in Soukup's office what the relative cost would be to pursue this idiocy. In addition to legal costs, the PR ramifications would have been thoroughly entertaining. In a town that prides itself on its arts, picking on a frustrated performance artist would have polarized the arts community and those who support it. Even within its ranks, the artsies are divided over Sprinkle's actions. It's likely Sprinkle would have teetered on martyrdom for some, and been the devil incarnate to others. Damn...they let him off just when things were getting interesting. This town hasn't had a good dust-up since developers tried to tear down the Blue Moon tavern six years ago.

The news of the settlement really bummed out KING-TV's news department. They not only lamented the decision editorially (in what we like to call a "slant"), but sent a talking head into the streets to interview pissed off downtown merchants. They didn't interview the cop who phoned in the bogus bomb scare, or the manufacturers of the inoperative bomb robot. And, as you can imagine, they didn't talk to me.

So here's the present upshot:

It sure is nice to know our wives and children are safe again. For a minute there I thought I was going to have to load the Uzi and secure the compound.

P.S. Norm Maleng got his ass roundly kicked in the primary election. By a fundie, no less. Life's a bitch, eh, Norm?



Jef Jaisun -- El Jefe
eljefe@eljefe.net

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