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First Amendment Advocates Challenge Queens Library’s Decision to Cancel Photo Exhibit

Faces of the 7 Train

Dec. 24, 2018 By Meghan Sackman

A non-profit group that fights censorship is accusing the Queens Library of violating the first amendment rights of an artist by refusing to display his work.

The National Coalition Against Censorship, a decades old group that aims to protect First Amendment freedoms, is challenging the library for its decision to cancel a photo exhibit that consists of photos of 7 train riders.

The exhibit, ‘Faces of the 7 Train’ by artist Drew Kerr, consists of a series of 32 black and white photographs of 7 train riders taken over the course of six years. The photos were taken by Kerr without the knowledge or consent of the subjects.

Kerr, whose exhibit was supposed be shown at the Flushing branch beginning Dec. 14, was sent an e-mail by the library a week prior saying it would no longer show it—citing privacy concerns.

The library said it was not comfortable with the way Kerr took the photos.

Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokesperson for the library, said the photos were taken ‘in secret,’ which was of concern. Furthermore, the library argues that some of the subjects might be undocumented immigrants putting them at risk.

NCAC wrote a letter to the CEO of the library, Dennis Walcott, and urged him to restore the exhibit.

“By cancelling Kerr’s show, Queens library is suppressing public access to artwork that is fully protected under the Constitution on purely subjective grounds,” the letter reads. “There is no reasonable state interest that this suppression serves.”

NCAC asks the library to reinstate the exhibit sometime in the first three months of 2019 at a time agreeable to them and the artist.

“This brilliant letter points out the purpose of a public library while living in a country where the arts are protected by the First Amendment,” Kerr said.

The letter also was sent to Mayor de Blasio as well as Borough President Melinda Katz.

De Bourbon said the library is reviewing the letter and is working on a response.

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First of all, let’s all have some learning about the law. You, in public, do not get “privacy.” Period.
Second, the statement by the library that some of the subjects may be undocumented immigrants, that flies in the face of logic. How in hell do they know who is documented or undocumented from their picture? It’s not as if these people have their names and immigration status stamped on their photos. That’s complete BS as a defense.
Third, beyond that, there is no connection to illegal immigration here, so all the folks that decided to take that thread and run with it, you’re just showing your true colors. Immigrants, the poor, run this city with their bare hands and heart, regardless of immigration status. They take the jobs that you’d spit at, and they do it with all their heart because they know that if they get behind on rent, or can’t pay for something, they’re going down a dark path. They are doing the jobs most people sneer at because it’s survival for them. We lawyers, doctors, computer programmers, cashiers, tellers, and everyone with a “legal” job wait till the right “opportunity” comes around. These people take the job, regardless of the opportunity, because it’s survival, but if you tell me that they’re taking your job, and using up your taxes, then you’re an idiot.


Dear LeoR:

You were cruising along until you hit a WALL. Your third point is a rambling mish-mosh of misconceptions. Let’s start with your “there is no connection to illegal immigration”. Re-read (or read) the article. QBPL’s only stated objection to these ‘in secret’ photos is that “some of the subjects might be undocumented immigrants…”.

Continuing: you lump immigrants and the “poor” together. Not everyone in need is an immigrant, and not every immigrant is “poor”. Furthermore, none of these posts cite immigrants or the “poor”. Try that reading thing again and you’ll discover that all of the comments refer to ILLEGAL aliens. A difference that may be too subtle for you. Stop with the faux outrage.

Next: “They take the jobs that you’d spit… sneer at…”. You may know yourself, but you don’t know me or anyone else posting here. LeoR, perhaps you’re projecting. Since 7th grade I have worked these jobs. And for several years after HS, I worked construction. Apprentice union laborer/carpenter. $22 hr, a good wage in the 70’s. These jobs are gone now. Stolen by these illegals working for what is essentially slave wages. Employers line their pockets and are now allowed [ie:encouraged] to exploit illegal aliens.

Yes, illegals are using our taxes. They “steal” health care (hospitals), education, police and fire protection, subsidized transit, food and a dozen other services. And, contrary to the popular myth, illegals DON’T pay taxes. For the most part they work in a shadowy cash illegal underworld. Some fraudulently use stolen and fictitious SS#’s. Claiming 10 dependents on small wages = no withholding.

Finally, “you’re an idiot.” ? I always consider it victory when they end with an ad hominem.


Thee so-called first amendment rights to take photos ends at my face buddy.
Go create your “art” somewhere else, or first get permission to use my image.


Dear Schaz, When you are out in public, you are in public. Your permission is not required. This is the law. Go bring your (mistaken) belief to every business, every organization, government department and individual with cameras all over this city. Your image is capture a thousand times a day, and NEVER with your permission. Good luck with that, you haven’t a leg to stand on.

ps: the 1st amendment is real, not “so-called”.

JH resident


This is NYC, illegals are a protected class given privileges, rights and benefits at the expense of legal, law-abiding citizens.


These ‘illegals” are building your buildings and serving your food, Mr. “This is NYC”! Where do you come from and what was your family’s experience coming here? Have we all forgotten?

JH resident

@ Anonymous

These “illegals” are overcrowding the city and stressing public services because they do not pay their fair share of income taxes to support their consumption..schools, subways/buses, etc. These “illegals” have children born here who are recipients of Medicaid and food stamps, benefits they do not pay into.

Stop your nonsense with “illegals” building this city and serving food. They take more than they contribute, especially in NYC.

I was born and raised in Queens, I’ve watched the quality of life in this borough go down the drain because of the massive influx of “illegals” starting in the early 90s and continuing without check since then. What once were clean, family neighborhoods are “illegal” slums now.


Dear Anonymous,
They are stealing services (including subsidizing transit) from we who are here legally.

And wrong, they are not “building (my) buildings and serving (my) food. They are being used as slave labor by employers not wanted to pay a decent wage to Americans.


“some of the subjects might be undocumented immigrants ” ???

So now QBPL is placing the anonymity of illegal aliens above the first amendment.


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