Cambridge BLM mural vandal apologizes

The Black Lives Matter mural is located in the 400 block of Race Street.

CAMBRIDGE — The confessed vandal of this city’s “Black Lives Matter” mural made a public apology on July 26. He had not been charged with crimes at that point.

At the event, State’s Attorney for Dorchester County Bill Jones promised that in the future, African-Americans accused of vandalism would also be given chances to make amends before they are charged.

The mural down the middle of the 400 block of Race Street was created in late June by a group of volunteers led by artist Miriam Moran, Shelton Hawkins and Jermaine Anderson and Adrian Greene of Alpha Genesis Community Development Corporation. It and other demonstrations in town and around the nation were in response to killings of black men by police officers, most notably George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minn.
The mural received widespread support and some criticism. Mr. Jones was present during the painting, when he voiced his personal approval and confirmed that the project was legal.
Then on July 8, security cameras captured images of a truck burning rubber on the mural, defacing much of it. Cambridge police posted still photos of the incident, and shortly thereafter, the driver of the truck turned himself in.
A meeting to discuss the situation took place on July 23 followed, attended by the man, project organizers and Mr. Jones. It developed that the driver would not be charged right away, and be given the chance to make amends.
In a July 30 report on WHCP Radio 101.5, the Rev. Cesar Gonzalez reported on the issue and the public apology.

As work on repainting the damaged portions of the colorful mural got underway, a young man and his parents were seen hard at work. “All eyes were on them, and they knew it,” the Rev. Gonzalez said.
It was the driver and his mother and father. “This was why we were all there, to hear what he had to say,” the Rev. Gonzalez said.

“I made a very dumb choice,” the driver said. “I did a burnout on it.”
Identified only as Michael — “Nobody seemed to know what his last name was,” the Rev. Gonzalez said — he was described as tall, stocky and pale.
He spoke through a microphone to the crowd, saying, “I just really realized how much it had hurt everyone in the community. When I found out the police were looking for me, I immediately called and turned myself in.”
He continued, “It hurts my heart to know how many people in the community I’ve harmed. I’d like to apologize to each and every one of you who put all this hard work into the mural the first time and now because of me, a second time.”

He finished by saying, “I’m not asking for your forgiveness, but I hope I can earn it eventually, after I prove that what I did was not out of hate, but just out of stupidity.”
The remarks were met initially with applause. However, “It became clear that Michael’s moment of contrition was not going to end quickly,” the Rev. Gonzalez said.
Ms. Greene took the mic and said, “I’ve got to be honest, this doesn’t affect him. For us to say, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ that’s our journey.”
She said though the young man was in a tough spot at that time, “We’ve been in these shoes for 400 years.” In his current difficulties, she said, “You begin to understand our plight.”
Others then spoke, some thanking him for coming forward, others to share their frustration at the vandalism and the absence of immediate charges.
Joe Manokey said, “If you had been a brother, I guarantee you, it wouldn’t have been this easy.”
“We want you to understand that your life matters, and our live matters too,” Mya Wood told him. His responses, the Rev. Gonzalez said, were only an occasional quiet, “Yes, sir,” or “Yes, ma’am.”
Mr. Jones went to the microphone to say he was the one in the county who decides on charges.

“Those decisions have not been made yet,” he said. “Because I want to see what happens when we get through this process, where my community is, where our community is, and make sure we do what is best.”
He recalled a powerful moment in the meeting on July 23, when Ms. Moran told Michael that if the roles were reversed, a black man would not be given the opportunity that he was receiving.

“I thought, ‘That’s right,’” Mr. Jones said. “If we flipped them around, chances are, a black man is not given this opportunity to make things right before the system addresses what to do with him.”

Dr. Theresa Stafford addressed the issue as one of systemic inequality.
She said she wanted to hear Mr. Jones say, “I’m going to look at every other black child who does vandalism and give them the same opportunity I gave Michael.”
“I will,” Mr. Jones responded.