“They must clean it up”: for BLM muralist Abi Mustapha, restorative justice is the answer

When two men took turns filming each other burning tire tracks on the Black Lives Matter mural in front of Santa Cruz City Hall on a July evening, Abi Mustapha, who led the project, said taken as a message.

“It’s a reminder of where I am – where I belong in this community,” she said. “It’s another reminder that you can do whatever you want, and I just have to take it.”

It’s a reminder of where I am – where I belong in this community,

There are many resources and community members willing to repaint the mural, but Mustapha is holding back offers of help at this time. She wants to find a way for the alleged vandals to repair the damage themselves, either as part of the outcome of the trial or through an independent mediator.

She sees an opportunity to employ restorative justice, a theory that brings together offenders and victims to educate and redress directly.

Abbi Mustapha wants those who caused the damage to fix it.

(Kevin Painchaud / Santa Cruz Belvedere)

“It’s obviously going to be there until it’s fixed, but there’s this fight in me that’s like, ‘No I don’t want to fix this for anyone,’ Mustapha said. be resilient in my own way, but you can go and mend your mess. ”

I’m gonna be resilient in my own way, but you can go fix your mess.

The Santa Cruz County District Attorney has filed vandalism charges with a special hate crime allegation against Brandon Bochat and Hagan Warner. The preliminary hearing, which has been postponed several times, is currently scheduled for October 7.

Mustapha launched the mural project as a call to action for Santa Cruz to work to deconstruct systemic racism as a community. The city was the first in America to approve a Black Lives Matter mural.

She, along with organizers Sean McGowen, Taylor Reinhold and Shandara Gill, took the project from idea to completion in just two months. T-shirt sales and donations of $ 5-10 made up the bulk of their initial funding of around $ 15,000, and more than 500 volunteers showed up to paint the mural.

The project approval process was not straightforward – Mustapha and his team went through the bureaucratic steps to obtain permits from the city and listened to favorable and dissenting views from the public before obtaining unanimous council approval. municipal of Santa Cruz.

“That’s what’s frustrating about it,” Mustapha said. “The privilege someone feels of not having to go through the process of what I had to do. It’s like, ‘No, we’re just going to destroy him because we don’t agree with him. And then we’ll get a slap on the wrist and still achieve our goal of terrorizing a community.

It’s like, no, we’re just going to destroy it because we don’t agree with it.

Abbi Mustapha

(Kevin Painchaud / Santa Cruz Belvedere)

A joint declaration published by local black organizations, including the NAACP and the Santa Cruz County Black Coalition for Racial Justice and Equity, called the degradation of the mural a “provocation to fear and hatred” and called for to the public prosecutor’s office to charge the alleged vandals with hate crime in addition to vandalism, which Mustapha supports.

She also wants to move beyond the justice system, which focuses on punishment while doing nothing to address the psychological damage done to the black community by vandalism. This is where restorative justice comes in.

The ideal outcome for Mustapha would be for Bochat and Warner to fix the mural, provide compensation to fix it, or both. She wants to challenge an old narrative – that a resilient black community will paint the crimes of white privilege over and over again, without the other side engaging in any thoughtful rendition.

Aerial view of a vandalized mural.

Aerial view of a vandalized mural.

(via BPSD)

It’s more important that they clean it up and that the community sees them clean it up, for me at least. It’s more healing in all of this than just repainting letters.

But offering an olive branch to perpetrators of racist crimes is controversial. “I think there is something wrong with that,” Mustapha said, “The idea that young black men – black boys – have been lynched on the simple charge of lesser things.”

Still, she thinks it’s worth trying something different. “It’s more important that they clean it up,” she said, “and that the community sees them clean it up, at least for me. It’s more healing in all of this than just repainting letters.

Mustapha and his team are responsible for maintaining the murals, and no one really knows if a fine could be part of the sentencing, which would help cover the costs. Until then, the fresco will remain as it is.

For Mustapha, activism and art go hand in hand. “You need art for a movement,” she said, citing iconic 1960s art that continues to resonate today. In her own studio, she paints faces she doesn’t see in mainstream art – blacks, older women, people of color – because she thinks representation makes a difference by realizing that the world is bigger than oneself.

Activism is a family trait. Mustapha’s parents are retired teachers who now spend half the year in Indiana and half the year in Sierra Leone, in the village where his father grew up. They have built a school there and are building a hospital. “I think they gave me that sense of integrity,” said Mustapha. “There is also a sense of duty to do things.” Her parents taught her that to do nothing to stop the injustice is to become part of the problem.

Mustapha studied political science at Indiana University, but drifted west, plugging into Oakland’s art scene before settling in Santa Cruz in 2014. And she discovered that the activism has become a natural part of his life.

“You don’t start and end a project like this,” she said. “It’s a process and it’s a movement. I am an activist because I want to live my life a certain way.

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