Life can be difficult when your vehicle has a huge Wikileaks logo and "Top Secret Mobile Collection Unit" emblazoned on the side. An artist's Wikileaks-themed U-Haul truck is missing after being confiscated by the NYPD.
The Wikileaks truck has been a fixture at Manhattan's Occupy Wall Street protest since day one, provoking puzzled reactions from media, cops and tourists alike. Unfortunately, Julian Assange hasn't been secretly crashing in the flatbed; it's a project by New York-based artist/activist Clark Stoeckley. Stoeckley says he has no connection to the Wikileaks folks. He's been driving the thing around the country since March, filming his exploits, and for most of the past two months it's been parked down at Zuccotti Park, where it sheltered him and fellow occupiers.
But last Thursday morning—the morning of Occupy Wall Street's big day of action—Stoeckly was pulled over on Broadway and Cedar Street near Zuccotti Park. The cops used the fact that his license plate was crooked, and that he turned on his windshield wipers without his lights as pretense to pull him over, Stoeckley told us in a phone interview. (New York law requires drivers to use headlights "whenever you are using your windshield wipers to clear rain, snow, sleet, etc.")
Police demanded to search the vehicle, and when Stoeckley refuse they arrested him for "Obstructing Governmental Administration." Stoeckley's lawyer, Wiley Stecklow, said he's concerned Stoeckly was arrested "unlawfully," simply for "refusing to consent to a search."
His arresting officer gave him a handwritten slip of paper with contact info for a place called Mike's Towing, saying he could pick up his truck there. But when Stoeckley was released from jail Saturday, Mike's Towing said they had never received the truck, which incidentally also contains all of Stoeckley's possessions.
"I think this is over the NYPD's head," said Stoeckley, ominously. It's not the first time the truck has gotten him in trouble: He's been hassled by NYPD a couple times in New York, and when he parked the truck outside the White House in March, he said, Secret Service searched it and questioned him about any ties to Wikileaks.
A Mike's Towing representative confirmed they had no clue about the Wikileaks truck when we called today. "I definitely would have noticed something like that," he said.
So, where's the truck? Stecklow, said the truck wasn't at the city impound, either. But he's been in contact with the NYPD legal department and is trying to track it down. "My hope is that the NYPD is going to locate it, and explain why it disappeared," Stecklow said. Said Stoeckley: "I want my truck back immediately. It was illegally taken from me and it is illegally being held from me. That is not courtesy, professionalism or respect."
Stoeckley will be lucky if it doesn't come back with a couple wheels missing—NYPD doesn't have a good record of treating protesters' valuable possessions with loving care.
Update: The Wikileaks truck has been recovered!
[Image via Wikileaks Truck/Flickr]