NEWARK -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the Trenton Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People today called on the Trenton Downtown Association to meet with the organizations to discuss restoring a mural paying homage to Michael Brown, the teen who was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Mo.
The storefront mural was erased last month by the city’s graffiti sandblasting equipment, apparently after the Trenton Police Department complained to the downtown association -- which commissioned the artist who painted the mural -- that the image sent the wrong message.
The mural showed Brown’s face, with stars and stripes on the shoulders of his clothing, and the words, “Sagging pants is not probable cause.”
“We believe the removal was improper both as a matter of policy and law,” the organizations said in a joint letter addressed to the Mayor, the Chief of Police and the executive director of the Downtown Association. “The mural presented an issue of significant public importance and a message that should have been embraced by officials as an opportunity for positive communication between the public and the police. Instead, the Association quite literally ’whitewashed’ the mural, its message and any opportunity it presented.”
In addition to the letter, the organizations filed Open Public Records Act requests for emails between and among the police, downtown association and the mayor’s office.
“While some Trenton police officers might have viewed the mural as sending the wrong message, it was not overtly or inherently anti-police,” ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas said. “Rather than silencing the artist, this could have been a springboard for community discussion about improving police-community relations.”
The mural was painted on the metal pull-down door of a vacant business, and according to news accounts, covered over an illegal liquor ad.
The artist, Will "Kasso" Condry, said he was approached by the downtown authority to paint a mural of his choosing. He chose the subject in consultation with peers at the SAGE Coalition, an artists’ collective that has been commissioned to paint more than a dozen murals around Mercer County.
“At this important moment in history, with so much attention being paid to police practices, it’s important to foster discussions in our community, not to suppress the opinions of one group or another,” NAACP Trenton branch president Jonette Smart said.
The letter also explains that the sandblasting of the mural interfered with the free speech of both the artist who painted it and the community which has a right to view the mural and its message.
- OPRA Request: City of Trenton 11/25 (PDF)
- OPRA Request: Trenton Downtown Association 11/25 (PDF)
- ACLU-NJ, NAACP Trenton Letter 11/25 (PDF)