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Newsday and NY Times reports on fishy
activity on Long Island 7-3-01

07/03/2001 - Tuesday - Page A 4

Arts Centre Is Vandalized
Motive unclear in graffiti, theft

by Kelly Bowser
Staff Writer

Charlotte Sky and Vic Skolnick, co-directors of the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, were shocked when they went to the theater Sunday morning. They found messages like "BAI No More" and "Stop Supporting WBAI" in blue spray paint on the center's walls, doors and purplish-gray carpet.

Things got worse as Skolnick walked upstairs and found that someone had broken into the second-floor office, spray painting the computer equipment inside. A 400-pound safe with about $2,500 was missing, probably carried out by several people, police said.

The graffiti and theft, which occurred between 12:30 and 2 a.m. Sunday, followed an event held there Saturday afternoon - The Day of Broadcasting in Exile, a fund-raiser to support WBIX.org, an Internet radio station created after employees were fired from New York City's WBAI/99.5 FM in December.

The vandals, whom police suspect hid in the building until after closing, also destroyed the reel of "Himalaya," a Tibetan-language film, worth more than $4,000.

"We're still living with it, seeing how much paint we can take off," Sky said yesterday. "They didn't seem to be protesting against the WBAI in Exile [WBIX], they just seemed to be protesting WBAI as a journalistic station...I don't think they favor free speech at all." Suffolk Det. John Fives said police do not have any suspects and are trying to understand the motivation behind the crime.

A call to WBAI was not returned.

Organizers of WBIX.org said they found the actions saddening.

"People were trying to pervert what we've done - coming together for the community who have an interest in progressive radio," said Errol Maitland, host of "Wake-Up Call" on WBIX.org. "That is no way to show support for the WBAI in Exile group. That is not our message. If these people were just plain vandals, we don't want them to use our cause as a means for them to go out and rob other people and destroy their property." Saturday's event raised nearly $6,000 to support WBIX.org and several lawsuits against the national board of Pacifica, which owns WBAI, said James Krivo, a member of Long Island Friends of BAI who helped organize the event.

"It's like a church that's been defiled," Krivo said of the vandalism.

"This is about free speech."


Vandalism Follows Event for Ex-Radio Employees

The New York Times Company

GARDEN CITY, N.Y., July 2 At the Cinema Arts Center, vandals stole two safes, damaged computers and scrawled graffiti denouncing the radio station WBAI-FM after a Saturday fund-raiser at the theater that featured an Internet simulcast by fired, banned and exiled employees of the station and their supporters.

Today, the Suffolk County police were investigating the burglary and vandalism at the arts center in Huntington. Many said the acts of destruction did not make sense, either as a misguided showing of solidarity with those who have been dismissed, or as an attack on the fund-raiser or theater.

"I fail to see any concrete connection between the cultural event in the afternoon and the criminal acts that night," said Ursula H. Ruedenberg, who participated in Saturday's fund- raiser and is a member of the Pacifica Campaign, a grass-roots group that represents listeners and staff who are fighting to preserve the mission of Pacifica radio, a community- based radio network, across the nation. "It is possible it is an expression of hostility toward the Cinema Arts Center as an institution that supports progressive causes or it is possible it is a robbery and the rest of it was basically a cover-up."

The vandals damaged at least 10 computers, stole two safes holding a total of about $2,700, and destroyed a reel of the film "Himalaya," said Detective John Fives of the Suffolk Police Department. In blue spray paint, someone wrote "Stop supporting WBAI" on the carpeting, "No WBAI broadcast here" on a theater door and "No more BAI $" outside an office.

A struggle between employees and volunteers at WBAI-FM (99.5) - a voice of the left for a half-century - and the management of its parent group, the Pacifica Foundation, has become increasingly tense since Pacifica fired WBAI's general manager, Valerie Van Isler, and locked her out of her office in December. Several others have been fired or banned.

Besides WBAI, Pacifica owns licenses for KPFA-FM in Berkeley, Calif., and for stations in Los Angeles, Houston and Washington. Many critics of the foundation, which was organized in 1946 by a group of pacifists and former conscientious objectors to World War II, say that its national board is trying to weaken local control of its stations.

The fund-raiser was peaceful, the police said. It was also successful, drawing 400 spectators and raising $6,000 for three lawsuits against Pacifica board members, Ms. Ruedenberg said.

Billed as "The Day of Broadcasting in Exile," it featured, among others, Mimi Rosenberg, a former co-host of "Building Bridges," a WBAI program about labor. Also present was Al Lewis, who played Grandpa Munster on "The Munsters" television series, and whose show, "Al Lewis Live," was removed from the WBAI schedule.

A number of social issues germane to Long Island were discussed at the fund-raiser, including union and fair- wage issues, immigrant workers' rights, transportation in the suburbs, health care for the poor, conditions in the Nassau County jail and education.

Many said today that the vandals may have been incited by the progressive ideas discussed, even though their graffiti denounced a station that has dismissed members who discussed such issues regularly. The theater's co-directors viewed the vandalism simply as an attack on free speech.

Ryme Katkhouda, an electrical and computer engineer who helped organize the event, agreed. "I don't know if they were misguided, but the point is they hear something and they don't like it," she said. "They heard a message and said, `You will not carry that message here,' and they came and messed the place up, and that is not acceptable. We are a democracy and people's voices should be heard."

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