Vandal spreads racist messages across International District Black Lives Matter murals

by Renee Raketty, Seattle Gay News

Students at Franklin High School in Seattle learned a valuable lesson about hate and perseverance after their mural, one of several in the International District painted as part of the “The Mural Project” was vandalized. The murals painted on boarded-up storefronts feature a variety of Black Lives Matter themes while others advertise the business within.

“I had a premonition that this would happen to the mural because during the previous painting session the students and I were verbally accosted with hate speech twice by bigots driving by and walking by,” explained Lauren Holloway, the advisor and art instructor for the Franklin High School student club Art of Resistance and Resilience, and who discovered the vandalism after returning from a camping trip. “I was afraid that one of these bigots might come back to do damage to the mural.”

The Seattle Gay News had previously reported on the student club and their mural, which began as a pilot project after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Their club’s mural at 7th Avenue and Jackson Street honors Marsha P. Johnson, a prominent figure in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, and Ade A. Connere, a Capitol Hill resident and popular local theatre and cabaret performer who had been a fixture at Re-bar.

“After seeing our mural vandalized, I went for a walk around the neighborhood to see if other Black Lives Matter murals were defaced,” said Holloway. “I located two other murals and a blank piece of wood covering a storefront [that were vandalized]. The other two murals centered on Black lives and one of the two murals had a specifically anti-Black message.”

The person taking responsibility for the vandalism has been referred to as a “volatile” individual. The SGN decided to withhold their name for this article because he could not be reached for comment by press time. A review of their Facebook page reveals several rambling posts with racist and hate filled rants. On Wednesday, he wrote that he was the “angriest white male of all” who wears that title as a “badge of honor.” He goes on to say that he doesn’t care about Black people “one way or the other” until “they f[*]ck up Chinatown in Seattle.” He wrote: “I want to make them pay!”

The vandalism had included his name in several instances and his Facebook included an omission of guilt, which was later deleted. The post read: “I’m marking myself all over the place in Chinatown because of what the [B]lacks did[.] I’m marking myself all over the place!”

Holloway said her students were “angry” but “eager” to find out more information about the vandal and their motives. However, many were alarmed by what they found. “After the verbal harassments we received as well as the racist vandalism, the students and I didn’t feel safe working in an environment where people passing on foot or in a vehicle could – at any time – verbally harass us,” she said. “There was also a concern that the vandal could be dangerous. It was my idea to put a call out to volunteers in my network and also the Support the ID – Community United Facebook group I’m a member of.”

The group received a “tremendous and moving” response from the community, according to Holloway. “Many people were quite upset about the vandalism but that translated into people taking action by showing up in large numbers to support us and provide security until the mural was complete,” she said. “This was community resilience in action and it was a beautiful thing to witness and be a part of. This is going to be a lesson that will stick with my students for life.”

“At least 20 volunteers showed up the next day to our scheduled paint session and, at moments notice, to hold the block down and bring snacks and refreshments. We even had street medics come down to keep an eye out for us. We were all so touched by the level of support and solidarity from everyone who joined us.”

The community support was felt by the students, added Holloway, and led to the students not only covering the vandalism but putting even more effort into the mural. “I am so proud of the way they responded. They were determined to not let hate get in the way of their project,” she said. “They immediately went to work repairing the mural and the mural quality was even stronger as a result. For example, the student who painted Ade did an even better job the second time around with value in the face really bringing out the bone structure. He took on the challenge of growing as an artist.”

The mural has since been coated with an anti-graffiti clear coat that is chemically formulated to work with a cleaning agent that easily removes graffiti from a vandalized mural without damaging it. In addition, members of the Support the ID Facebook group and International District Community Watch Group have vowed to keep a lookout for the vandal.

“It’s taught the youth that we – as a community – can look out for, protect, and care for one another when hate strikes our communities,” concluded Holloway. “We take care of us. It was a lesson in resiliency and solidarity.”

Members of the club wanted to clarify an earlier quote in the SGN from a club participant to note that while there were no Black club members participating in the mural, they did have Black members of their club. Holloway said that Black students of the club feared “physical violence” because “police were inflicting violence on protesters.” In addition, other students had “social anxiety” or were “busy with other family obligations.”

Holloway adds that the club just got a grant to hire Black, Indigenous, and People of Color teaching artists to co-advise the club. The grant will also cover art supplies and food. “The Franklin student population is 93 percent [BIPOC] but all the arts educators [during the last school year] are white, myself included. I strongly believe that representation matters,” she said. “I think we’ll see an even greater number of BIPOC students want to participate in the club when they see a teaching artist who is [BIPOC] or that Queer and/or Transgender People of Color is leading a social justice art club. I’m excited to see who the students pick.”

Holloway says they will be accepting applications on the club’s Instagram page @artofresistanceresilience in the next month.

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