BLACK LIVES MAT­TER MU­RAL IN OAK PARK VAN­DAL­IZED

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MANNY RAMOS AND BEN POPE Staff Re­porters Manny Ramos is a corps mem­ber in Re­port for Amer­ica, a not-for-profit journalism pro­gram that aims to bol­ster Sun-Times cov­er­age of Chicago’s South and West sides.

A Black Lives Mat­ter street mu­ral in Oak Park was de­faced early Wed­nes­day, al­tered to read “All Lives Mat­ter.”

A run­ner saw the van­dal­ized paint­ing and re­ported it to po­lice, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cer on the scene.

The mu­ral was painted with vil­lage ap­proval as Oak Park joined a grow­ing num­ber of towns and cities putting up large Black Lives Mat­ter art in­stal­la­tions. The project was led by Cullen Ben­son and Cort­lyn Kelly and de­signed by Franka Huanchicay.

The mu­ral is on Scov­ille Av­enue, just south of Lake Street in the near-west sub­urb. It was com­pleted less than two weeks ago.

Van­dals used black paint to paint over some of the let­ters, then al­tered others with white pa­per to morph the phrase “Black Lives Mat­ter” into “All Lives Mat­ter.”

Oak Park em­ploy­ees from the De­part­ment of Pub­lic Works power-washed the 100-foot­long paint­ing dur­ing the day Wed­nes­day, and the “Black” let­ters had been largely re­stored to their orig­i­nal form and color in time for a 5 p.m. news con­fer­ence and rally.

Hun­dreds of com­mu­nity mem­bers at the rally used pro­vided chalk to write sup­port­ive mes­sages around the mu­ral.

“While this morn­ing sucked, it clearly has turned into some­thing re­ally beau­ti­ful,” Kelly told the crowd. “We cre­ated this mu­ral to cause con­ver­sa­tion. And it kind of did, and peo­ple were re­ally thank­ful we did it. But the con­ver­sa­tion didn’t re­ally start un­til to­day, af­ter it was de­faced be­cause a lot of peo­ple didn’t re­al­ize we had this prob­lem.”

Makayla Pye — a ris­ing ju­nior at Oak Park-River For­est High School and one of the event’s or­ga­niz­ers — then called on Oak Park res­i­dents to re­al­ize that racism ex­ists within their com­mu­nity, de­spite its “rep­u­ta­tion as a di­verse and very lib­eral place.”

“‘Black Lives Mat­ter’ should not be a con­tro­ver­sial state­ment,” Pye said. “If you hear ‘Black Lives Mat­ter’ and im­me­di­ately your re­sponse is to say ‘All Lives Mat­ter,’ that says a lot about how you per­ceive race.”

The vil­lage is­sued a state­ment “ex­press­ing sad­ness and dis­ap­point­ment” at the van­dal­ism.

Ben­son, the 22-year-old lead or­ga­nizer, is in Ari­zona and was un­able to at­tend the rally. But his mother, Mak Flournoy, kept a watch­ful eye over cleanup ef­forts.

“This is a re­minder that if white folks can’t give us a small mu­ral on a side street in Oak Park, they won’t be able to give up much,” Flournoy said. “Sadly, I think that if they aren’t ready for this then they cer­tainly won’t be ready for the things to re­ally make this coun­try, and this vil­lage, and state, bet­ter.”

Flournoy, who’s Black, said she was driven to tears this morn­ing when she heard the news but was happy to see how the vil­lage re­sponded. She said peo­ple can’t as­sume an Oak Park res­i­dent did this but it still speaks to racism in the United States over­all.

“[The mu­ral] is not go­ing away, we are not go­ing away, Black peo­ple are not go­ing away,” Flournoy said. “We are here. We will be stronger and bet­ter.”

AN­THONY VAZQUEZ/SUN­TIMES; PRO­VIDED (LEFT)

Vil­lage em­ploy­ees work (above) to re­move black paint from the “Black Lives Mat­ter” mu­ral on Scov­ille Av­enue in Oak Park. The mu­ral was de­faced Wed­nes­day (left) to read “All Lives Mat­ter.”

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