OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) — A photograph shot during the first night of George Floyd Movement demonstrations has been made into a Black Lives Matter mural in downtown Oakland by local artists.
Louis Michael, 22, of Vallejo, is the mural’s subject. He wore his blue college graduation gown to the protest, and he stood with his fist raised next to a line of Oakland Police Department officers.
The contrast between Michael’s graduation gown and the officers’ riot gear stood out, and the moment was captured by Bay Area photojournalist S.B. Maney. KRON4 asked the man in the mural about what he was feeling in the visually-powerful moment.
“I was trying to make a statement of what it’s like to be a black graduate in 2020. I was feeling empowered standing in front of the police with my fist up. I knew I was making a statement. People were congratulating me because I had a cap and gown on. It was a really surreal moment,” Michael said.
He had just graduated from Midamerica Nazarene University in Kansas. The photograph was taken just around the corner from where the mural was painted. It beautifies and covers a Walgreens store that was heavily damaged during the May 29 protest.
Gazing at the mural, Michael said, “I don’t believe Oakland police needed to be here this night in riot gear with guns.”
Michael describes himself as a “police abolitionist,” and he wants funding to be shifted from police departments to schools and youth resource programs. Michael is beginning his career as a teacher this fall.
“Police are not needed,” Michael said. “They perpetuate a system of racism. Once you put on that badge you are perpetuating a system that has kept black and brown people oppressed since the beginning of policing. It started off as slave patrol.”
Michael said the mural is more than just artwork. It’s a symbol of community and what Oakland needs to thrive.
Michael said more young black men should be celebrated for positive achievements like higher education.
“The finished (mural) is amazing. This could have been anybody. To see a young black man who isn’t dead, we don’t need a hashtag by my name. I’m still here standing and we can celebrate that,” he said.