Community members repaint the Black Lives Matter mural in front of Santa Cruz City Hall
Community members repaint the Black Lives Matter mural in front of Santa Cruz City Hall on Saturday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

‘I will do everything I can to make things right’: BLM mural vandals apologize; mural repainted as civic leaders declare Abi Mustapha Day

Nearly two years after Brandon Bochat and Hagan Warner vandalized the Black Lives Matter mural in front of Santa Cruz City Hall, the men joined more than 50 community members to help repaint the mural and give a public apology. Santa Cruz City Councilmember Sonja Brunner and 3rd District County Supervisor Justin Cummings declared June 24 Abi Mustapha Day in honor of the local artist and SC Equity Collab co-founder.

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Midway through a panel discussion Saturday afternoon, Santa Cruz County NAACP President Elaine Johnson locked eyes with one of the men who, nearly two years earlier, had defaced a Black Lives Matter mural in front of Santa Cruz City Hall.

“I forgive you,” Johnson told Hagan Warner in front of a crowd of more than 50 community members, muralists, activists and supporters gathered at the closed block of Center Street in front of city hall for the mural’s long-awaited repainting. “Because if I don’t, it ain’t keeping you up at night, it’s keeping me up at night.”

Warner and Brandon Bochat were sentenced in November to two years of probation, 144 hours of community service and ordered to pay nearly $20,000 in restitution for filming themselves burning tire tracks across the mural, which had been painted to honor 2020’s racial justice movement in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

As part of their sentence, the two men are required to participate in a process of restorative justice — which focuses on getting offenders to take responsibility for their actions, understand the harm caused, and give them a chance to redeem themselves. That process culminated in Warner and Bochat attending Saturday’s mural repainting and issuing an apology. The event marked the first time Warner and his co-defendant have spoken publicly about their actions.

The Black Lives Matter mural in front of Santa Cruz City Hall.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Warner admitted he was initially nervous about the session, but now views the experience as an “eye-opener.” He told Lookout his actions in 2021 had been influenced by media depictions of Black Lives Matter protestors as rioters. But having spent time speaking with Black community leaders as part of the restorative justice process, he says he now understands that he had been misled.

“I had only heard about riots on the news and things like that, but after learning more, I see that’s actually a whole bunch of B.S.,” he said. “After hearing what people said in court and in the dialogue session it changed my perspective a lot.”

Warner added that he would have come to help repaint the mural even had it not been a mandatory part of his sentence, in order to show people his actions were “extremely stupid.”

“Every year that I can, I’m going to come down and help repaint,” he said. “It’s been a really cool experience.”

Hagan Warner at the mural repainting Saturday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Bochat, too, said he’s had an “awakening” to a new perspective. “It’s been welcoming and a good experience learning what this mural actually stands for, why it was created, and why people felt afraid and threatened,” he said.

He added that he too was nervous about attending the event, but that quickly changed upon arrival. “Being here now, I feel protected and around good people who just want to see me learn about what’s going on and how I affected the community,” he said.

Brandon Bochat at the mural repainting Saturday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Abi Mustapha, local artist and co-founder of SC Equity Collab — the initiative that spearheaded the mural project — said she felt great as the day progressed.

“I’m really happy with how many people showed up and how everyone came together for this,” she said, adding that she’s glad Bochat and Warner attended. “This is the best-case scenario.”

Santa Cruz City Councilmember Sonja Brunner and 3rd District County Supervisor Justin Cummings presented a proclamation deeming June 24th Abi Mustapha Day, in honor of her work in social justice and equality for all county residents.

Restorative justice has always been a vital part of the approach for SC Equity Collab. Having the two men attend and assist with the mural’s repainting is a key part of that approach, but more components are underway. Warner has already participated in a victim-offender dialogue session and Bochat is expected to do the same.

From left to right
From left to right: Santa Cruz City Councilmember Sonja Brunner, SC Equity Collab co-founder Abi Mustapha, and 3rd District County Supervisor Justin Cummings presenting the proclamation deeming June 24th “Abi Mustapha Day.”
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“There were a lot of hard truths told, and I feel like it really did come across to Hagan how much he hurt the community,” Sean McGowen, co-founder of SC Equity Collab, said of the dialogue session. “You could see the change in his demeanor throughout the day — by the end of it you could see that he felt welcomed.”

Johnson, who is also executive director of Housing Santa Cruz County, described the entire process as a “call to action” for the community to come together and push for change. She told the crowd that she invited Warner to Juneteenth celebrations at the London Nelson Community Center last week, and he showed up.

“I didn’t invite him because I wanted him to hang out with Black people, but because I want him to understand the culture,” she said. “If you’re willing to be teachable, things can shift.”

Cummings said the victim-offender dialogue has started to lead both sides toward a better understanding of each other and that it has highlighted the influence of the media on people’s actions.

“That can be translated into actual violence and hate,” he said, adding that he is hopeful a restorative justice approach can continue to gain traction locally. “When we all come together, we start realizing that we all care about the same things.”

Mustapha added: “Jail time doesn’t work. I’ve known people who have gone to jail and it feels like a waste. These men were pretty young, too, and it’s a huge opportunity if they are interested in taking it, which they were.”

The panel wrapped up with Bochat and Warner addressing the community and apologizing for the crime.

The Saturday afternoon panel discussion.
(Max Chun / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I should have thought more about my participation before doing something so thoughtless,” said Warner. “I will do everything I can to make things right, such as being here today, joining the Juneteenth community celebration, and participating in future community outreach and education.”

Bochat told the gathering: “I want everyone to feel safe and not have to worry about looking over their shoulder every 5 seconds. It’s been a great learning experience working with community members to understand that this mural represents standing up to police brutality and racism in America.”

Then the two men joined others and grabbed paint rollers to apply a fresh coat of yellow paint to the now-freshly brightened “Black Lives Matter” letters. For those who have been closely involved in both the creation of the mural and the lengthy court case, it is an important step forward.

“A friend of mine once told me that only true growth comes from pain,” said McGowen. “As awful as this was, this is an opportunity for this whole community, and hopefully changes some minds along the way.”