Victoria's police chief says a city-sponsored mural on justice issues disrespects members of the police department, but a community organizer is defending the artwork because it is meant to spark challenging conversations about race, power and inequality.
Chief Del Manak said the large "More justice, more peace" mural located in downtown's Bastion Square includes an anti-police slogan that is "deeply disrespectful" to those who serve in the police department.
Manak said in a statement part of the mural includes the acronym ACAB, which is commonly held to mean "All Cops Are Bastards" or "All Cops Are Bad."
Manak said he spoke to city officials about the message on part of the mural, which was presented to the city as a project to raise awareness of injustices suffered by Black and Indigenous people and others. He said he also expressed his concerns about the mural during a meeting Thursday with members of the Black community.
Pamphinette Buisa, a community organizer representing the artists and a member of the women's national rugby sevens squad based in nearby Langford, said the mural should challenge people.
"This is supposed to be something that will initiate and challenge perspectives," she said in an interview.
"I think having a conversation simply on whether we should remove one letter defeats the entire purpose of the entire mural all together."
Manak said he supports the spirit behind the mural, especially its message of more justice and peace.
"Justice is not justice if it does not include all members of society," he said. "Excluding one group through harmful words seems counter to the very spirit of the mural itself."
The mural is the work of 17 artists and is meant to raise awareness of injustices suffered by Black and Indigenous people and others. It has been in place for about two weeks.
Buisa said the police chief should consider examining the mural from the perspective of the person who painted the message.
"I wouldn't resort to feeling as though it's personally attacking the person or the police," she said. "I would look at it in a way, like, why do people feel this way."
City spokesman Sheldon Johnson said the acronym has remained in place but municipal officials want to meet next week with the artists and the mural sponsor, the African Heritage Association of Vancouver Island.
The society received a city grant to sponsor the mural, said Johnson, who could not immediately provide the amount of the grant. The city program provides grants between $500 and $5,000 for public projects.
"We do want to discuss the acronym because it's not in the spirit of the city's guidelines for art in public spaces," said Johnson.
"Our understanding of what the acronym means is that it may be something that denigrates police officers, so that's why we want to have the discussion with the artists and the African Heritage Association of Vancouver Island."
A spokesperson for the association could not be immediately reached for comment.
Coun. Sharmarke Dubow posted on Twitter that he understands the police chief's statement but added it does not recognize that "the spirit of inclusion requires ending systemic racism."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 27, 2020.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press