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For Breonna Taylor: Annapolis July 4th mural protests police violence against Black people

Antoinette and Francine Childs stooped over the basketball court blacktop, spreading caramel-colored paint in a long, curving stripe.

As her mother dipped her roller into a nearby paint tray, Antoinette consulted the image of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician from Lousiville, Kentucky who police killed in March after breaking down her door on a “no-knock” search warrant.

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“If we, as Black women, don’t uplift her, nothing will change,” Antoinette said.

The Childs duo drove down from Baltimore on Saturday, the Fourth of July, to join dozens of other volunteers in creating a 7,000-square-foot mural of Taylor, whose shooting death sparked protests and calls to end police brutality nationwide.

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The Rev. Tamara E. Wilson, chair of Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, noted the purposefulness of the date.

“In a speech delivered in 1852, Frederick Douglass asked, ‘What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?” she said. “He went on to answer, ‘It is a day that reveals to him more than all other days in the year the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.‘”

Both Francine and Antoinette attended Howard University, where they participated in social justice protests, she said, to end some of the same racial injustices the Black Lives Matter movement seeks to address today.

“We hope each generation will have it better than the last, and there has been progress, but things have taken such a sharp turn back recently,” Francine said. “That’s the frustration. But I’m hopeful because it seems like people are starting to understand what people of color are going through there will be change, not just lip service.”

The mural painting Saturday came together after Annapolis non-profit Future History Now, which promotes public art often for social change, the Banneker-Douglass Museum and Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture teamed up to find space, sponsors and volunteers.

Nationwide some city governments have attracted criticism for funding public art declaring “Black lives matter” without meaningful investment in dismantling racism within public institutions and police departments.

But Saturday’s project was entirely donor-funded and served to document not only Taylor’s killing in Louisville, but “police brutality and vigilante violence against Black people in Maryland, as well as Black people throughout the nation,” Chanel Compton, executive director of the museum and commission said in an interview before the event.

Public art has a deep history in Black social justice movements, Compton said, and was used as a vehicle during the Black Power era to “articulate and express black history within the public domain, because it wasn’t being articulated in the history books and it wasn’t being expressed in the mainstream media.”

As a part of the Saturday event, commission members recounted in first-person spoken word Taylor’s life: her plans to become a nurse, her committed relationship to her boyfriend Kenneth Walker, her plans for a vacation to New Orleans, a birthday she never reached.

Annapolis has had its own history with racism in city government as well as the police department, which only allowed its first Black officer to arrest Black city residents. In 2019, Mayor Gavin Buckley fired then-Chief Scott Baker citing incidents both inside and outside the police department as well as inability to cement positive relationships in some majority Black neighborhoods grappling with high levels of crime.

The department ended 2019 with 33 internal complaints and 46 citizen complaints against officers, including two use of force complaints, up from 29 internal and 32 citizen complaints the year prior. So far this year, there have been 15 internal and 17 citizen complaints.

Current Police Chief Ed Jackson recently announced plans for a civilian review board to monitor the department.

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A cadre of Future History Now teaching artists, including Annapolis natives Deonte Ward and Comacell Brown Jr., mapped Taylor’s image as well as block letters spelling “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in topographical layers with spray paint two days prior. Then, they overlaid a grid so each group of volunteers could fill in the colors one block at a time.

“It’s a giant color-by-numbers,” said Jeff Huntington, who founded the non-profit with his wife, Julia Gibb.

Huntington, a well-known muralist, drew inspiration for the mural after seeing street art declaring “Black lives matter,” in cities across the country, but wanted to create a portrait “people could really embrace,” he said. Poring over satellite images of the city, Huntington scanned every possible flat surface where he could envision the mural.

Volunteers painted under relentless heat, faces covered in masks as they rolled, dabbed and brushed deep browns, bright blues and jet black onto the concrete, slowly revealing Taylor’s likeness with each added hue.

Among them was Midshipman 2nd Class Kolbi Green, who sat on the blacktop painting the brown of Taylor’s eye. Green said she came because she supports getting justice for victims of police violence.

“This case was one of the most disappointing,” she said. “She didn’t pose a threat — she was asleep.”

Huntington and partners landed on Chambers Park, a community space tucked away in the city’s historically Black Parole neighborhood and named after the Rev. John T. Chambers Sr., the only Black mayor of Annapolis.

Members of the Chambers family, including his grandson John Chambers III, spoke on behalf of their namesake. Del. Shaneka Henson, the first Black woman to represent Annapolis in the Maryland House of Delegates, stood alongside the family and described hearing a young boy cry out “Black lives matter!” in support of a recent protest outside his house.

“He will never have to question if this country values that because people took to the streets and they made it clear that it has to matter...” she said. “So, I am so thankful for the affirmation that will line this park.

“I am so thankful for the policies and the budgets that we will demand to make sure that we don’t have to repeat the words of Frederick Douglass and be another generation that has fallen short of the promises of this country.”

Artist Comacell Brown works on the mural. Artists and volunteers paint a 7,000-square-foot mural of Breonna Taylor on the basketball courts at Chamber's Park in Annapolis Saturday.
Artist Comacell Brown works on the mural. Artists and volunteers paint a 7,000-square-foot mural of Breonna Taylor on the basketball courts at Chamber's Park in Annapolis Saturday. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

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