.Painting for Justice

The Black community attempts to heal wounds through restorative justice

Almost two years to the day since the Black Lives Matter mural on Center St. was vandalized in an act of hate, the community is coming together to restore the mural. 

The road leading up to this day has been marked with pain, dialogue and grace as local activists engaged in a process of restorative justice to address the vandals’ actions.

The highly-anticipated repaint is set for June 24 and many community members have signed up to be a part of the event. Organizers are also expecting Hagan Warner, one of the two men responsible for the mural’s defacement in July 2021, to be there.  

This is the result of mediation efforts by members of SC Equity Collab (SCEC), a local initiative founded by artist and activist Abi Mustapha in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

The group and some 500 volunteers painted the original mural, giant yellow letters spelling “Black Lives Matter” in front of city hall in 202o. The endeavor channeled the energy of nationwide protests for racial justice and police accountability after Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police that year. 

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For these activists, the decision to embark on the path of restorative justice was born out of empathy and to address the shortfalls of our punitive justice system in bringing humanity into the process.

A Dialogue

In Nov. 2022, Hagan Warner and Brandon Bochat were sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay $19,000 in restitution for felony vandalism and hate crime for burning  truck tire marks into the BLM mural in 2021. 

A crucial part of their sentence, one which Abi Mustapha and her group advocated for, was for the perpetrators to engage in restorative justice. This would take form as community dialogues led by SC Equity Collab and the Conflict Resolution Center of Santa Cruz County.

According to a press release for the mural restoration by SC Equity Collab, the men’s sentences included several aspects of a restorative justice model, including participation in a victim-offender dialogue and participation in a racial equity educational program.

Sean McGowen, co-founder of SCEC, sees the value in extending opportunities for people like Warner and Bochat to make amends to those they harmed. 

“The reason that this work is important is because if you take somebody who has committed a hate crime into prison, for instance, it’s only gonna further perpetuate that system,” McGowen says. “They’re gonna learn in that system values that make them worse.”

The restorative justice model emerged in 1970’s with the focus being on victim-offender mediation. Although Santa Cruz does have a community court program, the restorative justice approach is less common in traditional criminal court. According to Mcgowen and others, Warner has been receptive to the approach, while Bochat has shown less willingness to engage, making minimal contact with the SCEC.

For some involved in the restorative mediation process for Warner and Bochat, the harm caused by their actions is not easy to brush away. 

Restorative Reservations

Thomas Sage Pedersen, a local activist and host of the Speak For Change podcast, was involved in a community dialogue earlier this year as a former member of SCEC. While he ultimately supports the process that the vandals are engaged in, he has mixed emotions.

“There’s a bittersweetness to it,” Pedersen says. “If Black folks were in the same position they wouldn’t be treated the same.

“Now we’re talking about restorative justice and giving all this grace to these White young adults, which is good, but I just really want to see it done to Brown and Black folks.”

Chris Davis, co-founder and director of local non-profit Santa Cruz Black, also engaged in a mediation session. He echoes some of the sentiments brought forth by Pedersen. 

“Emotions were at 11,” he says.

Davis feels that having to go through the process of restorative justice can dig up the  trauma of violence against Black people. In this case, it does not have to end in physical violence, but reliving the harm done to the local Black community does not bring healing for him.  

“[Black people] have to do the work first, and that to me is irritating. It’s exhausting,” Davis says.

Pedersen and Davis concur that despite their raw emotions and doubts about this process, it can only benefit the community.

“We are showing the world, our community, this process of restorative justice,” Pedersen says. “What [Warner and Bochat] do in the future will inform us on what to do in the future. It’s an exercise in empathy.” 

Paint and Pain

The upcoming BLM mural restoration has created a buzz in Santa Cruz, with many residents eager to participate. As of last week, over 150 people had signed up through SCEC’s website. More participants are expected to join the list this week and drop-ins on the day-of are anticipated.

Santa Cruz County Third District Supervisor Justin Cummings is ready to see the repainting happen. Cummings was Santa Cruz Mayor in 2020 and has shown support for the restorative justice efforts spearheaded by SCEC.

“It’s been a long time coming and I hope there’s a really good turnout. It will be a positive event,” Cummings says.

When asked about the willingness for Warner to make amends and participate in the restoration, Cummings believes it’s a positive thing for the community.

“I think it will be a step in the right direction,” Cummings says. “There’s gonna be a lot that needs to be done in order to really heal the pain that was caused to many members of the community. But I think it’s gonna be an exercise in good faith.”

Sean McGowen admits that it may be hard for some to grapple with the emotions surrounding the event and Warner’s presence.

“The community was harmed and, yes, there will be emotions at the event,” says Mcgowen. “Talking about racism is not a painless thing. The only way to show up sometimes is in tears.”

Community members looking to participate in the mural repainting can sign up at SC Equity Collab’s website. The event will be this Saturday, June 24 from 10am to 5pm. All are welcome. 

4 COMMENTS

  1. I’m so glad this mural is being restored. It saddened me to see it everyday, defaced. I still think the 2 who defaced it should have to help with cleaning it up.

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    • Black-on-White crime FAR exceeds White-on-Black crime, but you’d never know that by the way most media (including the “Good Times” cynically censor it.

      FACT:
      Even on “Juneteenth” Black mass shooters killed & wounded dozens of others all across the country.

      It’s understandable if you didn’t know that — but now that you know it, you’ll probably ignore it because you can’t handle the cognitive dissonance it generates.

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  2. This is Orwellian, they’re changing the definition of “mural”. Dear News Media: Please don’t change the meaning of words to promote an ideology.

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