.Black Lives Matter Mural Repaired

Hagan Warner and Brandon Bochat vandalized the mural in 2021. The Black community is still trying to heal

The words BLACK LIVES MATTER shone bright yellow once more under a clear blue sky on Saturday as community activists gathered to repair vandalism inflicted on the Center Street mural in 2021.

Santa Cruz County 3rd District Supervisor Justin Cummings and Santa Cruz City Councilmember Sonja Brunner attended and officially proclaimed the day to be “Abi Mustapha Day” in honor of the local artist and social justice organizer who began the mural project.

The block of Center Street separating City Hall and the Downtown Library had been closed for days as the mural was professionally cleaned, polished, and prepared for restoration. 

As the sun rose and the town awakened, volunteer muralists, including some professional artists, were busy working, reviving the bold letters with broad strokes of their paint rollers. 

When the work was done in the afternoon, they joined together to raise their hands skyward in triumph and solidarity.

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A spirit of healing dominated the event, as the two young men convicted of inflicting the damage were welcomed, embraced, and even cheered after addressing the 100+ listeners gathered. Both read statements of apology, regret and commitment to make amends for the physical and emotional damage their action inflicted. 

Hagan Warner and Brandon Bochat, who burned tire tracks across the mural, are serving sentences of two years of probation and 144 hours of community service, in addition to paying over $19,000 in restitution.  They pleaded no contest to charges of felony vandalism with a hate crime enhancement.

The celebratory tone of the event turned somber as Justin Cummings moderated a discussion about the emotions and repercussions arising from the original vandalism. 

Seated in a semicircle and addressing the crowd, the group of activists and organizers shared the feelings they had upon hearing about the attack on the mural and their experience of exclusion in the community. The black community represents only 1.6% of the Santa Cruz population.

Santa Cruz County NAACP President Elaine Johnson shared that, “there’s places inside of me that still feel a little anxious in this community being black.”

Johnson echoed other speakers’ experience when she described the pain caused by the vandalism.

“This happened over a year and a half ago and I still have that thing in my body—this deep, incredible sadness that someone that looks like me carries,” Johnson said. “Because every time you try to put a couple of steps forward, somebody wants to knock you a couple steps down.”

The two issues that speakers addressed in depth concerned the application of restorative rather than punitive justice.

Abi Mustapha believes that after serving prison time, individuals return more damaged than before. 

“The reason we asked for restorative justice in whatever capacity we could have it instead of jail time is because we don’t want this to happen again,” she said. 

Shandara Gill, of Yoga For All Movement added, “if you think about it, even from a monetary perspective, restorative justice is certainly not a time saver, but it is like a financial saver of the community of its resources.”

Gill and Mustapha explained the complexities involved in the mural restoration. These included the conclusion of the legal proceedings and restitution, the lengthy process of repainting according to city guidelines, and the necessity that the entire experience have the maximum positive impact for the city.

Mustapha explained the purpose and the mission of the mural in the context of its restoration.

“It’s not just paint on the ground,” she said. “We wanted to make a platform. This is a place to gather. It’s a place where people are supposed to feel safe and seen.”

“We didn’t repaint it until we felt like our community and our city had stepped up to acknowledging what had actually happened and what needed to be restored.”


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