We will all have seen the #BlackLivesMatter actions after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police (and tragically, so many other African Americans who have also been killed by police brutality*). To raise public awareness, #BlackLivesMatter signs have been painted on public roads.
(*In a single week in March 2021, 3 Aboriginal people have died in police custody in Australia. Victorian Greens senator Lidia Thorpe describes the justice system as “deeply racist”).
In June 2020, Miriam Moran – an African American artist, together with her friends, took part in a community project to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ on a main street in downtown Cambridge (Dorchester State), with the endorsement of the City Council. The idea was to paint a street mural depicting historical milestones of the city’s culture in the context of the words Black Lives Matter.
In July, in the middle of the night, a man in a pick up truck deliberately ‘burned rubber’, damaging the mural. (Apparently, a so-called friend in the passenger seat had encouraged him to do it.)
Security camera footage led to coverage on social media, and the driver was quickly identified – a 21 year old local. The driver saw the disappointment his actions had fostered, called police and turned himself in.
The artist said she felt ‘hurt and devastated’ when she found out the mural had been damaged, not just for herself, but for the community that helped create the painting.
The man and his parents met with the District Attorney (who could have opted to charge the man with a hate crime), the Mayor, the Police Chief, a detective, the artist, Alpha Genesis Co-Founder and Chairman, along with others. The State Attorney reported it was a ‘good conversation – and a difficult conversation’. The driver was contrite, and agreed to work with other volunteers, his parents, and his friends to repair the mural.
He also agreed to apologize publicly for his thoughtless act. His apology was heartfelt. There was genuine remorse in his voice, and genuine tears in his eyes. His mother stood by his side, quietly, even as members of the black community talked to him in no uncertain terms, not about him, per se, but about the burden of being black in America. They asked him what it was like to grow up white in the same community. The testimony was at times raw, at times uncomfortable, but never angry or accusatory. They got to know each other’s stories. It was meant to educate, and illuminate experiences that the driver was not tuned into, despite living and working in the same community. It was an opportunity to learn about what “Black Lives Matter” means to people who have often been treated as if they don’t matter.
As much as there was talking, there was also listening. A lot of listening.
The driver was given the opportunity to demonstrate his repentance. A black man would most likely not have received that opportunity.
The District Attorney (DA) spoke about the opportunity to make it a teachable moment, that it was important to work together to keep the situation from escalating further, and to find a path toward healing. The DA was confronted by Theresa Stafford, a career educator, and director of a public housing youth centre. She wanted a commitment from the DA that this kind of opportunity would also be extended to black youth that get into trouble for vandalism, to provide a path forward, as had been extended to the driver, who is white. He agreed he would actively seek opportunities to work with black kids to help them learn from their mistakes.
After the speeches and testimony, and hard questions, the volunteers returned to work. They added several elements to the mural. Tyre marks were incorporated into the repairs to the mural. Roses were added, and the words “Say Their Names” were added above “Black Lives Matter”.
The driver and his parents stayed till the end. The driver did whatever tasks the muralist Miriam Moran asked him to do.
‘It’s time for healing but also for accountability to one’s self to understand each other and also to do what is right’, said artist Miriam Moran.
A story shared by Rev Dr Ian Price on Sunday 14th March 2021. This post incorporates information from a newspaper article and a Facebook post by Lee Weldon (an artist Miriam Moran’s Facebook page).