The Museum of Modern Art, New York, on March 14 revealed to staffers that it had renewed a paid security contract with the New York Police Department, Hyperallergic reports. The museum is said to have canceled the agreement, via which off-duty police officers provide armed backup to unarmed MoMA security guards, following the police killings in spring 2020 of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor. As well, MoMA is reported to have hired private security.
The announcement came after a March 12 stabbing in which two museum film-desk employees were injured. The suspect in the stabbing, sixty-year-old Gary Cabana, had become incensed after being turned away from a film screening on the grounds that his membership had been revoked owing to disturbances he caused at the institution. Cabana, said by friends to have been battling mental illness since losing his job as a Broadway usher during the pandemic, fled the scene but was arrested at a downtown Philadelphia bus station on March 15. MoMA, which had closed following the violent incident, reopened to the public the previous day.
News of the contract renewal is bound to raise eyebrows, as a number of staffers pushed for it to be voided in the days following the wide circulation of teenage Darnella Frazier’s video showing Derek Chauvin’s brutal broad-daylight murder of Floyd. However, front-facing workers in museums are undeniably at risk, placed as they are in surrounds that must necessarily present an open and welcoming appearance to visitors.
“We’re shocked at what happened, but we’re not entirely surprised,” said one staffer who regularly interacts with the public. “We constantly deal with members who throw tantrums, especially at the film department.” Video of the terrifying attack showed the workers trapped behind a curving desk with no means of egress that would not take them directly into the path of their assailant.
Maida Rosenstein, president of Local 2110, which represents MoMA workers, acknowledged that the incident had been “very traumatic, especially for those who work in Visitor Services and Membership.” Rosenstein noted that the union is speaking with staff to learn what safety measures they would like to see implemented.