Artists and allies occupied Victoria’s Bastion Square on Thursday to protect a mural painted earlier this month.
On Aug. 14, a group of 17 artists painted More Justice, More Peace on the ground in the square, with each artist assigned a letter sponsored by a local business. The City of Victoria also provided a grant to cover costs for the mural, a project that was created amid larger cries for racial justice across North America.
But Charity Williams, who orchestrated the painting event, said she received an email Aug. 27 requesting that a portion of the mural be removed by noon that day – a portion with the acronym A.C.A.B., which stands for ‘All Cops are Bastards.’
Organizers and some members of the artist collective took to the square the same day to defend the artwork.
“They wanted me to paint over the acronym,” Williams said. “Now we are here calling on our community to come together and take up the space and show the City of Victoria, the chief of police and city management that we are not staying silent, we will not be oppressed.
“We will not allow them to vandalize and commit a hate crime towards our art and our voices.”
City of Victoria spokesperson Bill Eisenhauer confirmed that the city’s arts and culture staff had asked for the acronym to be removed from the mural. The letters ‘A.C.A.B.’ were not included in the original concept for the piece, he said.
“We were made aware of this late last night – someone had noticed it and advised the police and a few other groups,” Eisenhauer added. “The acronym is not in keeping with the spirit of the city’s guidelines for public spaces.”
But the city has no intentions of removing the acronym without further discussion, he said.
“We look forward to having discussions with the artists’ group and the African Heritage Association of Vancouver Island,” he said. “No immediate action will be taken.”
While there are a range of interpretations for the term, the acronym is commonly known to imply that police forces are corrupted by power and have historically and continually enforced laws that further marginalize people of colour and other groups.
VicPD Chief Del Manak issued a statement Thursday evening, saying he was made aware of the mural Wednesday evening and expressed his concerns to the city.
“The inclusion of ACAB is deeply disrespectful to the women and men of the Victoria Police Department,” he said, adding that while he stands behind the call for more justice, more peace, “justice is not justice if it does not include all members of society.”
“In these divisive times, coming together in the spirit of inclusion is the only way to better our shared community.”
Williams said the situation is a symptom of an issue that goes beyond art. She chose the statement ‘More Justice, More Peace’ as a call for progress, but said it’s also an easily digested message of positivity.
“The fact now that we have an actual message that means something, that holds a lot of experience and pain and vulnerability and you want to censor that message … it just shows that you don’t actually care,” Williams said. “You’re using our bodies to make a statement … and this, now, you asking us to paint over our words, is making a statement – you have shown us exactly where you stand.”