Narkewicz described the public art installation as vandalism
By Avery Martin
The city of Northampton tore down a mural on the doors of City Hall on Wednesday that depicted George Floyd’s face surrounded by the names of others murdered by police.
The mural was created during a protest and vigil on Tuesday to honor victims of police brutality and call for cuts to the Northampton Police budget. It was surrounded by large paper butterflies and flowers. Above the mural, protestors hung a banner reading “BLACK LIVES MATTER MEANS DEFUND THE POLICE.”
The activist group Northampton Abolition Now, who were involved in organizing the protest, said in a press release: “This memorial was made with love, and was created with the intention to remind city leaders of their commitments to make Black Lives Matter in Northampton, and why we need bold action to divest from policing and invest in a vision of care and safety that works for everyone.”
The mural was torn down after less than 24 hours. In a statement to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Mayor David Narkewicz said that the mural was removed because people are not permitted to paint or paste materials onto City Hall. “We’re proud that it’s a place where people gather to express free speech,” said the mayor, “but that doesn’t extend to damaging the building or putting graffiti on the building, or trying to glue things onto the building that cover access doors.” He also said that protesters spray painted phrases onto the building, and that one person was arrested on charges of vandalism and resisting arrest.
Despite this, Narkewicz told Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra last year, “I am committed to working with the City Council to address the larger systemic issues of institutional racism and bias laid bare once again by the tragic killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020.”
The mayor’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Ashwin Ravikumar with Northampton Abolition Now (NAN) told The Shoestring, “Northampton Abolition Now is dismayed that Mayor Narkewicz and the city would insult the memory of George Floyd by taking down this unobstructive public art display.” In response to Narkewicz’s statement, he continued, “The building was still accessible, and it would have been easy to leave it up and allow this memorial to remain in place for some time without obstructing access to the building or compromising any municipal functions.”
This dispute over the mural of George Floyd takes place during contentious deliberations over the city’s FY22 budget. The mayor’s proposed budget would increase funding to the Northampton Police Department by 3% and give $424,000 in funding to a new Department of Community Care, which would prepare to take over many functions currently handled by NPD in the future.
The Northampton Police Review Commission, established last year, recommended narrowing the scope of policing in Northampton and providing at least $882,000 in funding for the new department.
Protesters gathered in front of the mural and called into the hearing on Tuesday as a group to express their concerns about the proposed budget. They called for a 50% cut to the police budget and full funding for the Department of Community Care, and some described harm they had experienced from the NPD. In response to the proposed budget, Ravikumar said that NAN is “deeply disappointed that the mayor has put forward a budget that increases funding to the police after grueling sessions by the NPRC to make really clear recommendations and underscore the importance of shrinking the footprint of policing in Northampton.”
During Wednesday’s continuation of the hearing, public commenters expressed disappointment at the removal of the mural, in addition to the proposed budget. NAN’s statement on the mural removal echoed these concerns, saying, “If Black Lives Matter, then Northampton needs to defund the police by 50% and meaningfully invest in community-led safety strategies.”
“The city’s decision to tear down the mural will not stop the steady march of history towards a world without policing and without prisons, and towards a society that takes care of everyone at the expense of no one,” Ravikumar said.
Avery Martin is a researcher and reporter at The Shoestring and a student at Mount Holyoke College.
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