Quick Take:

The two men who vandalized the Black Lives Matter mural in downtown Santa Cruz will be sentenced Friday. Activists, including members of the SC Equity Collab who led the creation of the mural, are encouraging the public to attend and speak at the sentencing. It’s a chance, they write, “to demonstrate to the defendants, the court and the judge such behavior will not be tolerated here.”

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After 16 months of attending court, the two men who committed a felony hate crime against our community in their vandalism of the Black Lives Matter mural have pled “no contest” to all charges. We are not naming the men to keep them from gaining notoriety or being “famous.”

Their sentencing hearing is set for 10 a.m. Friday at the Santa Cruz County courthouse, with Judge Syda Cogliati presiding. The Santa Cruz Equity Collab — which includes the people who created the mural — is encouraging our community to show up to court for the sentencing.

In 2020, amid the nationwide social justice movement after George Floyd’s death, there was also an outcry for justice in our community. That resulted in our coming together to paint a street mural to reflect a message of our commitment to ensuring that all Black lives not only matter, but also that all Black residents feel safe and beloved as we pursue equity for all.

In June 2021, we came together again to repaint this mural and hear more intentionally about what we can do as a community to embody our values and take action toward anti-racism.

Then, a month later in July 2021, our mural was vandalized.

The marks against this symbol — which affirmed our commitment to a safer community — revealed our deepest fears: Racism and hate continue to be pervasive.

These types of destructive, aggressive and provocative acts heighten the social anxiety existing in the racially charged atmosphere of our country. The men who defaced the mural acted brazenly and intentionally, as evidenced by their filming of the destruction of public property.

Our community has to work diligently to demonstrate that this kind of directed act of hate is intolerable and has no place in our city, county and country.

The marks against this symbol — which affirmed our commitment to a safer community — revealed our deepest fears: Racism and hate continue to be pervasive.

Over the past 16 months, as this case made its way through court, we have learned more about what happened that day through videos the defendants took of themselves and posted online. We have learned more about their racism through multiple videos of them using racist slurs and threatening violence against historically marginalized communities. And we have seen the ongoing denial of responsibility of at least one of the defendants through his online comments.

When they pled “no contest” on Oct. 24, the court indicated that the sentence would include each man paying up to $10,000 in restitution — a figure about five times less than the estimated value of the mural. The court also mandated they attend a “racial sensitivity class” or professional therapy, which the judge referred to as a “unique” requirement for our county. And they each have to do 144 hours of community service, plus two years of probation, with the option to ask for their felony to be reduced to a misdemeanor after one year.

We want to highlight two important details about these requirements. First, there is no indication of what either community service or the “racial sensitivity class” will look like. Second, if the perpetrators can get the charges reduced to misdemeanors, they will again be able to purchase firearms — a fact that is deeply concerning because in one of the videos, one of the defendants is holding what looks like a firearm and talking about shooting members of the Latinx community while driving his car.

This same defendant is the one who continues to deny responsibility for his actions online. Instead, on the same day that he pled “no contest,” he commented that he did not have a “fair shot” at being found not guilty at a trial.

Further, that same defendant has been granted permission to appear remotely for the sentencing hearing, an option that he has taken throughout the entire case, which allows him to avoid sitting with the community members — the victims — who were most impacted by his actions.

Artist Taylor Reinhold repainting the BLM mural in June 2021
Artist Taylor Reinhold repainting the BLM mural in June 2021, a month before it was vandalized. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

For the Santa Cruz Equity Collab, restorative justice would look like this:

  • Both defendants would be ordered to be physically present for the sentencing hearing.
  • Both defendants would do community service that includes — but is not limited to — helping plan and restore the mural.
  • Both defendants would attend all community discussions, speeches and educational opportunities associated with the mural.
  • Both defendants would make a public apology to the community at the restoration event.
  • Both defendants would participate in the victim-offender dialogue program through the Conflict Resolution Center of Santa Cruz County.
  • Both defendants would participate in weekly professional therapy for at least two years.
  • Both defendants would pay the estimated value of the mural in full as restitution.
  • Both defendants would participate in a racial justice training/workshop that the Santa Cruz Equity Collab has co-created and/or co-facilitated.
  • Both defendants would serve at least five years’ probation, during which they are not able to purchase firearms.

For community members who have been waiting for the opportunity to show up and make their voices heard in this case, now is the time.

We encourage the entire community to attend the hearing Friday to demonstrate to the defendants, the court and the judge such behavior will not be tolerated here.

Additionally, everyone is invited to vocally share — in court — the severity of the impact of the defendants’ actions. We will also hold a news conference on the steps of the courthouse following the hearing.

This is our opportunity to choose progress within this system through a restorative justice model — to explicitly show the defendants and our community that we both understand and deeply care about the harm that has been perpetrated through this hate crime, and the need for true amends to be made. It’s also a chance to publicly demonstrate that, as a community, we will not tolerate hateful, racist behavior.

We appreciate the community’s ongoing support in pursuing justice in this case, and for generally being on fire for social justice in Santa Cruz.

Abi Mustapha is a Sierra Leonean-American full-time artist and activist, and the visionary behind the creation of Santa Cruz’s BLM mural; her work has been exhibited in museums throughout the country.

Sean McGowen works for artist Jim Campbell as a production lead specializing in rapid prototyping and development of large-scale public art projects, and serves on the City of Santa Cruz Arts Commission.

Thomas Pedersen is the founder and host of the ”Speak for Change” podcast. His mission is to inspire and promote positive and lasting change in our local and global communities. He is the founder and CEO of Everyone’s Music School.

Shandara Gill is the founder and executive director of Yoga for All Movement; she combines her passions for yoga and holistic wellness with restorative justice and is often invited to speak about pathways to wellness and justice at various panels and conferences.

Taylor Reinhold is a muralist whose work can be seen around the world and the founder of the Made Fresh Crew collective of artisans. He creates public art that highlights environmental stewardship, social justice and inclusivity.

Justin Cummings is running for District 3 county supervisor. He is a Santa Cruz City Councilmember, a former Santa Cruz mayor and an environmental scientist.

Emma Ledvina is a social worker and activist, currently working as a therapist and chief operating officer for the Parents Center in Santa Cruz.

SC Equity Collab is a co-led initiative sparked by 2020’s racial justice movement and founded around the creation of Santa Cruz’s Black Lives Matter street mural — a project conceived by artist and activist Abi Mustapha. Our mission is to bring awareness to the inequities in our community while bringing humanness to the process of becoming more equitable.