California cops’ lawsuit over Black Lives Matter mural dismissed

A California judge has overturned a lawsuit brought by six police officers over a Black Lives Matter mural they found offensive and discriminatory.

In an interim decision heard earlier this month, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Socrates Peter Manoukian dismissed the lawsuit, which sought damages for discrimination, harassment and retaliation relating to 16 murals ( spelling out “Black Lives Matter”) created by 16 artists on Hamilton Street in downtown Palo Alto, just outside City Hall (and next to the police department).

The public artwork was commissioned in June 2021 by the city, following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It was not withdrawn until November, despite concerns raised by officers; Eric Figueroa, Michael Foley, Christopher Moore, Robert Parham, Julie Tannock and David Ferreria.

After walking past the 245-foot-long “daily” mural, officers were concerned by the inclusion of an image of Joanne Chesimard (otherwise known as Assata Shakur), who was convicted in 1977 of the murder of New Jersey police officer Werner Foster. They also perceived that there was a reference in the mural to the New Black Panthers, a group widely considered to be being a hate group promoting violence – although this reference was denied by the artists involved.

City attorneys argued that the job would not be offensive to a “reasonable person” and that there was no factual evidence of adverse workplace treatment (such as termination or demotion) after the officers raised their concerns with their superiors. The judge agreed there was insufficient evidence to support the claim, which sought damages of more than $25,000 and alleged workplace harassment.

Legal representatives for all parties have been contacted but did not respond to our request for comment. It is unclear whether further legal measures are being considered.

“Street art is expression in the public space, and when it comes to BLM murals, dozens of which have been created across the United States (and around the world for that matter), the sense that morality is sanctioned by local government can lead to debates and disputes over mural content,” says Todd Lawrence, a professor at the University of St. Thomas, who co-leads a project to catalog and map anti-racist street art.. “We have to remember, however, that these murals are a kind of important expression of community members whose voices are often marginalized.”

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