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CT artists say they were harassed as they worked to restore defaced Black Lives Matter mural

Artists work on
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Artists work on restoring the Black Lives Matter mural on Trinity Street in Hartford Sunday afternoon, June 11, 2023. After Trinity Street was repaved, the mural needed repainting. Between Saturday night and Sunday morning, it was defaced with a swastika.

Artists are restoring a Black Lives Matter mural in downtown Hartford after it was defaced with a swastika and a message of white supremacy over the weekend.

But on a few occasions on Sunday, the restoration crew was put on edge, as onlookers harassed them. That’s according to at least two people present on Sunday.

Artist and activist LaShawn Robinson-Nuhu, who organized the mural project through the group BLM 860, says after she learned the mural had been vandalized, she quickly organized artists and volunteers to restore it.

But during one incident while the mural was being restored, a skateboarder drove through the wet paint, further defacing the mural, and causing some artists to start over from scratch.

The mural was created in 2020 as a response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. With financial and logistical help from the city of Hartford, artists were commissioned to adorn the block letters “Black Lives Matter” with inspirational art.

“The concept was for each artist to have whatever letter they would like to pick, and to do something meaningful on that letter," Robinson-Nuhu said. “We wanted to uplift during a time of COVID and of course the race issues, we just wanted to make sure we could express that through art.”

Artists say motorcyclists harassed them while restoring mural

According to Robinson-Nuhu, a man on a motorcycle ordered the artists to stop working and let him pass through Trinity street. When he was refused, Robinson-Nuhu said the man made a phone call, and soon several men on motorcycles were on the scene, shouting obscenities at the artists.

Artist Andre Rochester witnessed the disturbance. He said he’s not surprised by the harassment, or the vandalism to the mural. What surprises him is the timing.

“You know, we did this mural three years ago,” said Rochester. “And now, all of the sudden, it means something to them; now, all of the sudden, they are somehow threatened by it. It’s comical to me. The mural, it’s not new, so what is the point they are trying to make?”

Robinson-Nuhu says symbolically, the swastika that was scrawled on the mural over the weekend has been painted over with a big red heart.

State leaders condemn hate

The defacement of the mural comes days after residents of the town of Thompson found racist and threatening letters left on their driveways. Town officials joined Connecticut State Police leaders and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz at Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) headquarters in Middletown on Monday for a press conference.

“We want to work together to make Connecticut a state where everyone is welcome and no one has to endure this terrible hate,” Bysiewicz said.

Bysiewicz cited data from the Anti-Defamation League finding Connecticut saw a 115% increase in hate incidents in 2022 as compared to 2021.

Thompson First Selectman Amy St. Onge (l-r) and Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz speak before a press conference June 12, 2023, at State Police headquarters. The even included members of the Hate Crimes Advisory Council and Thompson residents named in a racist letter distributed to Thompson residents.
Dave Wurtzel
Connecticut Public
Thompson First Selectman Amy St. Onge (l-r) and Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz speak before a press conference June 12, 2023, at State Police headquarters. The even included members of the Hate Crimes Advisory Council and Thompson residents named in a racist letter distributed to Thompson residents.

“This puts Connecticut at No. 9 in terms of the number of these incidents, and we’re a small state, so it is deeply disturbing to me that we have to be here,” she said.

DESPP Commissioner James Rovella, who oversees the State Police, called the incidents in Hartford and Thompson “really disgusting.”

“We stand in solidarity to denounce this behavior,” Rovella said. “We won’t be intimidated.”

Rovella addressed the perpetrators directly: “Don’t feel empowered.”

“Keep looking over your shoulders, because once you cross that line into criminality, you’ll bear the full brunt of our efforts,” he said.

Rovella said state police have a person of interest in the Thompson incident.

Hartford police said Monday there were no updates on the active investigation into the mural defacement.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.
Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.

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