Artist explains why she painted Assata Shakur into mural outside Palo Alto City Hall

Bay Area

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KRON) — A vibrant Black Lives Matter mural was painted outside Palo Alto City Hall this summer.

Each letter was painted by a different artist and many faces appear in the mural.

One face has drawn the ire of the National Police Association. 

The letter “E” is a portrait of civil rights activist Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur. She is a polarizing figure.

Depending on who you ask, she’s either a hero or villain.

Benny Villarreal Photography

The association is petitioning for the city to erase the controversial woman from the mural because of her role in the 1973 killing of a New Jersey state trooper.

Shakur is one of the few women on the FBI’s Most Wanted fugitives list. She escaped from prison in 1979 and gained asylum in Cuba, where she is believed to still be hiding today.

Palo Alto city spokeswoman Meghan Taylor said the city has no plans of altering the mural.

Taylor issued the following statement to KRON4:

“The Black Lives Matter mural is one aspect of a larger City dialogue taking place on race and equity and connects to the City’s thoughtful conversations on the role of policing. 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. Temporary art is a means of expression on difficult issues and the Black Lives Matter mural is thought-provoking and is inspiring conversation.”

Benny Villarreal Photography

The artist who painted Shakur into the mural, Cece Carpio, explained to KRON4 news why the former Black Panthers Party member is such an important figure to the present-day Black Lives Matter movement and an inspiration.

Carpio said Shakur never had a chance of receiving a fair trial at the time she was convicted and sent to prison. The police association is now targeting her to smear what BLM stands for, Carpio said.

“Assata is an amazing woman that is celebrated in different parts of the world. She was part of the Black Panther Party, she was also part of the Black Liberation Army. Her work, and who she is, has always been centered around a love of her people. Her work she has been committed to her entire life is the liberation of Black communities,” Carpio said.

Benny Villarreal Photography

Carpio said she thought Shakur was fitting to be included in the Palo Alto BLM mural because her life is an example of how the fight for civil rights has faced police suppression.

“She is an amazing writer. She has brought forth so much wisdom through her words and her writing in terms of how change and revolution is all about love and community,” Carpio said.

Assata Shakur

“If you do a little bit of digging and research and just read about who Assata is, it’s not a secret that the Black Panther Party has been targeted by the FBI,” Carpio said. “Assata Shakur has always maintained her innocence. There was no way, she was never going to get a fair trial.”

“If we are painting huge letters outside Palo Alto City Hall that say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ for what this is really about, it’s to stand in solidarity with our Black communities,” Carpio said.

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