Artists defend anti-police slogan on mural funded by City of Victoria grant

Anti-police in public mural

There is no need for people to continue to stand guard over a mural in Bastion Square, says the City of Victoria.

The mural, a joint effort of 17 artists, is meant to raise awareness of injustices suffered by Black and Indigenous people and other people of colour.

Artists painted individual letters that together said “More justice, more peace.”

After nearly a fortnight after its inception, staff at the city’s arts and culture program noticed that one of the letters in the mural contained the acronym ACAB, for All Cops Are Bastards.

“It came as a surprise to us,” said Bill Eisenhauer, head of engagement at the city. “That wasn’t in the original concept and when we became aware of the acronym, we reached out to the artists to discuss.”

Before any conversations took place, a city crew was dispatched — “prematurely,” said Eisenhauer. “As more information came to light, it became clear that the acronym was placed on the work by the artists.”

Organizers say that they received an email at 9 a.m. Thursday demanding that they paint over one of the letters by noon, or the city would take on the task.

The artists quickly got the word out to supporters, and when a City of Victoria crew showed up to do the work, they were met by a group of 30 to 40 people intent on stopping them.

“The issue is more about racial justice than protecting artistic expression,” said Pam Buisa, one of the community organizers behind the mural. “Whether or not you agree with the artists’ message is not the point. It’s about the greater ‘More justice, more peace’ message we are trying to get out.”

The project was funded by a grant from the City of Victoria, with local businesses sponsoring the work.

Artists Kaiya Jacob and Karmella Benedito De Barros of Squamish defended their work.

“When we added ACAB to our piece, we did so as a statement against the mistreatment that is placed upon Black people by the police specifically throughout North America particularly, as well as across the globe,” they said in a statement. “We have seen how policing negatively impacts our Black and Indigenous communities in disproportionate ways and hold firm in our position against the police system as we see today.”

The artists stress that they do not wish to speak on behalf of the Black community, but from their experiences as Black and Indigenous-identifying individuals.

“It was our impression that the City of Victoria allowed us this space as an acknowledgement of the oppressions we face. We understood this as a gesture of peace and care which makes it particularly disappointing to see that our opinions are now being censored by the City of Victoria and the Victoria Police Department,” they said.

Charity Williams, lead organizer of the mural, said supporters have indicated that they are willing to camp at the site overnight, if necessary, to protect the mural.

Eisenhauer said that the issue is all a misunderstanding and that the City of Victoria is both supportive of public art and pleased to have contributed to the creation of this mural.

“We look forward to conversations with the artists to seek a way forward. It is not our intent to paint over the piece and no action will be taken while conversations take place.”

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said that the inclusion of ACAB is disrespectful to the department.

“I fully support the spirit behind the mural as I understand it to have been originally presented to the City of Victoria. The Victoria Police Department, and I personally, stand behind the call for “More Justice, More Peace,” said Manak in a statement. “Justice is not justice if it does not include all members of society. Excluding one group through harmful words seems counter to the very spirit of the mural itself.”

He said he supports continued dialogue to seek an inclusive outcome.

“In these divisive times, coming together in the spirit of inclusion is the only way to better our shared community.”

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