From Washington, DC to Seattle, Washington, the streets are filled with thousands of protesters demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and all victims of police brutality.
Music has long fueled movements for social justice. In 1936, Lead Belly denounced racial segregation.
Civil rights activists vowed they weren’t going to let nobody turn them around.
In 1964, Sam Cooke said “a change is gonna come.”
James Brown implored everybody to get involved.
In 1975, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes told us to wake up; no more sleeping in bed.
In the wake of the lynching of George Floyd, “the world has changed so very much from what it used to be.” Spotify’s Black Lives Matter playlist has nearly 850,000 likes.
Last week, Mural Arts Philadelphia unveiled Portraits of Justice, a public art project to engage ordinary citizens in conversations about transforming the criminal justice system.
Jeffrey Krimes and Russell Craig’s powerful murals overlook the statue of Frank Rizzo, a former police commissioner who had close ties with Italian mobsters and hung out at Black Mafia-owned joints on “The Strip” in West Philly. As mayor, Rizzo was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for a pattern of police brutality that “shocks the conscience.”
The murals’ bricks represent barriers to reentry. With their close proximity to Rizzo, the background brings to mind the former police commissioner gloating that his officers ordered Black Panthers up against a brick wall and forced them to strip naked in front of the news cameras. The August 31, 1970 incident is one of the many reasons Rizzo is loathed by African Americans.
The murals are designed to empower the public to reimagine a criminal justice system that is more than “just us.” To my surprise, they helped me reimagine a Thomas Paine Plaza without the Rizzo statue. The sheer size of the murals and the facial expressions are a silent rebuke to the monument to racial injustice. Tellingly, the family-commissioned hunk of junk has to be caged to protect it from the public.