A Black Lives Matter mural that sparked outrage from Palo Alto police over a year ago is now the subject of a lawsuit against the city over its refusal to remove it for four months.
At issue for police are two of the 16 letters in the mural on Hamilton Avenue, one of which, the second E, depicted an image of former Black Liberation Army activist Joanne Chesimard. Chesimard also goes by the name Assata Shakur, and she was convicted in a 1977 cop killing in New Jersey. She subsequently escaped prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba, and she continues to be hailed as an innocent hero by some civil rights activists. An autobiography of Assata was recently republished with a forward by activist and writer Angela Davis, who called her a "compassionate human being with an unswerving commitment to justice."
The mural letter, painted by Oakland-based artist Cece Caprio, includes a quote, apparently attributed to Assata, that says, "We must love each other and support each other."
The lawsuit, as the Associated Press reports, singles out the image of Assata, saying, "Law enforcement officers, including Plaintiffs, were forced to physically pass and confront the Mural and its offensive, discriminatory, and harassing iconography every time they entered the Palo Alto Police Department."
The suit, brought by five officers with the department, alleges that the city refused to remove the mural despite complaints from the police union, and anti-police iconography that they say violates the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act. They say that the mural was harassing and discriminatory to them in their workplace, and the city both encouraged it and paid for it.
The other image that they mention in the suit is that of a black panther in letter "R," which the plaintiffs suggest is a reference to the New Black Panthers. While the New Black Panthers has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Palo Alto Weekly suggests that this image could just as easily refer to the original Black Panther Party.
The New Black Panthers, which was formed in Texas in 1989, has been known to openly encourage violence against white people, Jewish people, and law enforcement. The SPLC calls the group "virulently racist and anti-Semitic."
The mural was painted by 16 different artists on June 30, and it remained up until November, when the city said the street needed to be prepared for the rainy season.
Attorneys for the five officers say in the suit that, "This has caused damage to their professional reputation, their ability to promote, their ability to be selected for other units, and their ability to work." Damages sought are said to be over $25,000.
Photo by Benny Villareal Photography