National Police Assoc. launches petition urging Palo Alto to remove fugitive from Black Lives Matter mural

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- The nearly 250-foot Black Lives Matter mural outside Palo Alto City Hall is hard to miss. Recently, more people have been paying close attention to the 'E' in the word "MATTER."

Painted on the 'E' is a portrait of Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur.

It's a depiction that is much different from photos plastered on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List.

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Shakur and others with the Black Liberation Army were convicted and sentenced in 1973 for the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper. She escaped prison in 1979.

"These were not social justice warriors, as we see today," Betsy Smith with the National Police Association (NPA) told ABC7 News. "These were felons. They were criminals. They were killers."

The NPA launched an online petition on July 7th, urging city leaders to remove Shakur from the piece.

However, the Oakland artist behind the painting is doubling down. In a statement shared with ABC7 News, artist Cece Carpio said in-part:

"This is really about defending the movements and communities I am accountable to, and work to uplift. This time our work is being targeted by the National Police Association."

The statement continued, "In our current time, when the Black Lives Matter movement continues to be on the rise, I feel it is imperative that we participate and show solidarity with our Black communities. The fight for Black Liberation has paved ways for us to be here. It is our responsibility to continue to defend Black Lives and support Black resistance."

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"Nobody has a problem with Black Lives Matter," Smith said, speaking on behalf of the NPA. "But to put a convicted cop killer. She killed a very young state trooper, escaped prison, fled to Cuba where she remains to this day alive and well when she should be in prison. It's a hostile work environment for the law enforcement officers that have to pass by that every single day and see a convicted cop killer's face on that mural right in front of their own city hall."

Carpio's statement explained the inspiration behind her mural.

She said, "In thinking about painting letters for this particular 'Black Lives Matter' mural supported by the City of Palo Alto, I felt it was important to represent the words and wisdom of Assata, who has been a political refugee since 1979. Assata, was a target of policing and COINTELPRO, and is still a target of the policing and the US government."

"They see her involvement with the Black liberation movement as a threat to the status quo. Just as they see the movement to defend Black lives as a threat to racial capitalism and white supremacy," Carpio continued. "It's 2020. Assata is still in political asylum in Cuba. Police are still killing and targeting Black people and Black movements. And people are rising up and continue to resist to build a new world."

Smith was made aware of Carpio's statement. Smith responded, "It's my personal belief that was put in there to provoke. There are thousands of people that could be depicted. Why a convicted cop killer?"

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Smith maintained the NPA is not asking for the entire Black Lives Matter mural to be removed. However, the association is asking for the piece in question to be painted over with something "more appropriate."

"I would like these young people and especially this young artist to do some research on the Black Liberation Army," Smith said. "These were not social justice warriors, as we see today. These were felons. They were criminals. They were killers."

Around the clock Wednesday and for much of the day Thursday, artist-volunteer Matthew Basirico guarded the image with his car.

Thursday afternoon, he told ABC7 News, "I was parking on top of the 'E' all day long, and then today, I just decided to move my car after I learned a little more truth about Assata Shakur."

While Basirico said he supports all law enforcement, he's still standing behind the artist's Freedom of Speech.

"I have a lot of respect and love for them," he said. "But at the same time, I really want to emphasize that the artists are just depicting what they want to depict. It's just a free rights, free speech, free artistry type feel to this."

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Basirico has made several calls to city leaders, demanding they paint a protective layer over the artwork. He said he'll remain at the site until something is done.

Palo Alto's mayor told ABC7 News that he's received as many calls about removing the 'E,' as he has calls to preserve the piece.

He directed me to a statement by the City of Palo Alto which explained in-part, "The mural is temporary, and the City has no plans to expedite the removal of the mural sooner than currently planned. In no way does the mural take away from the value we have in our police officers who serve our community every day."

"I know several Palo Alto police officers and I've trained many of them over the last 35 years, and I think that they would be frustrated to hear that," Smith told ABC7 News. "The Palo Alto Police Department hasn't done anything to deserve this kind of treatment. And by treatment, I mean, to have to walk by City Hall every day and see the face of a convicted cop killer."

Smith said she'd encourage city leaders to join in with the NPA, in their push to have the depiction of Shakur "reimagined."

She's also hoping to connect with the artist to start a dialogue, "And let her talk about why this is so important to her- this particular person, this convicted cop killer. Let's talk about that, and let us tell her why it's so important to us. Let's find- I don't want to say middle ground- but perhaps some understanding, some compassion for each other."

Before quote Shakur, Carpio's statement read, "So as police organize themselves to target, delegitimize and destroy our movements, I will continue to do my part to defend, amplify and celebrate them, and celebrate us."

The mural was painted on Hamilton Avenue, in front of Palo Alto City Hall.
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