When Brandie Davison put up an art installation in Downtown Long Beach in early June, she wasn’t interested in beautifying the city.
She wanted people to remember why the nation is in a moment of uprising, how we got here, and why rows of businesses in Long Beach were shielded with plywood.
“Numerous businesses decided to board up following the first major protest in Long Beach which was followed by looting,” Davison said. “Looting is a direct byproduct of protest which happens for many reasons. Some looting is actually a form of resistance and done purposely to gain the attention of a capitalist society. A society that values tangible goods and buildings overall, will start to listen when these things are being taken and destroyed.”
Davison described the feeling of the boarded-up businesses as dystopian, acknowledging that art usually comes in, hand-in-hand.
“Art to me reflects the time, the artist said. “It marks moments and movements. It inspires. I felt it was important that the art that was shown wasn’t a cover-up…” […] This is not a time to distract or cover-up.”
“I wanted to continue the messaging that lives are being lost at the hands of those who are supposed to protect us,” Davison said.
Davison’s installation was placed on a plywood board protecting rooftop restaurant BO-beau on Pine Avenue. The collage of 21 wanted posters stated the names of police officers who have committed crimes from all around the United States, including the fatal shooting of Tyler Woods in 2013 at the hands of two officers of the Long Beach Police Department. Some posters included photos of the officer involved, each poster a replica of the last, descended into a brief description of what transpired followed by the phrase “The People’s Defense Council Long Beach, U.S.A.”
“I think it’s important to remember this isn’t happening outside of us, and we are simply supporting others dealing with police brutality, this is happening right here, in our own city with LBPD too,” Davison said.
The installation was an homage to the Harlem Defense Council, a 1960s group that existed to police the police. According to a New York Times archive from Saturday, August 8, 1964, the state of New York granted a temporary injunction against “illegal demonstrations” organized by three individuals and organizations in Harlem, including William Epton, Jr., the head of the defense council.
Another New York Times archive said the individuals and organizations were accused of inciting tension during a time of racial violence in Harlem after NYPD Lt. Thomas Gilligan, shot and killed a 15-year old black teenager, James Powell.
The black and white posters that were issued and printed by the Harlem Defense Council are almost mirror images of Davison’s, one famously states “Wanted for Murder. Gilligan, The Cop” followed by a photo, reminiscent of a mugshot.
“I wanted to not only pay homage to the Harlem Defense Council and their work, but to also bridge the gap and show how much things have failed to change,” Davison said. “Black people are still targeted, harassed and killed by police at alarming rates.”
“I feel when we are only seeing the victim’s faces this is evoking sadness and horror because they look like me, or my brothers,” the artist said. “I believe it is just as important to be reminded of the cause; the faces of the perpetrators who committed these crimes. When Black people have committed a crime our mugshots are everywhere, even in death when we are the victims, a lot of times mugshots are used or any blemishes in our past are quickly brought to light. I think it is important to show, these are murderers. This is what they look like.”
Davison chose to display her installation in Downtown Long Beach because of its diversity and its surplus of boarded-up businesses that served as a blank canvas to different artists.
“Many artists chose random places to put their art, which is common with street art, Davison said. “I chose an empty board. I put my installation up. I received a lot of positive feedback from individuals passing by and those who took the time to engage with the work.”
When Davison went back a few days later while she was in the area, she noticed two police officers standing guard nearby while a man in a ladder took down the board.
“I asked if he was taking them all down and he said ‘no, just this one,’” the artist said. On each side of Davison’s installation, there were other boards, one yellow and one green. One had the words “Black Lives Matter” spray-painted across in white.
Davison is unsure who asked for the board with the installation to be removed or for what reason.
“The business has every right to remove anything they would like from their property, but I would just question why my piece?” Davison said. “I found it so disheartening because my piece showed nothing but the literal truth and real things that have occurred. Why is the truth offensive? Why is removing my work a priority instead of focusing on how we can find a solution for the real problem at hand? Black lives being lost.”
The Signal Tribune reached out to the restaurant through social media to inquire about the boards, but as of publishing time has not received a response.
Davison said she wanted to believe the board was coming down because the business was reopening earlier in June, but as of publishing time, the restaurant (as well as other Cohn Restaurant Group restaurants in San Diego & Southern California) is temporarily closed “in accordance with the Health Order from the County of San Diego and the actions of the state of California.” All boards previously guarding BO-beau are no longer up.
Whether the removal of the board containing Davison’s installation was targeted or the result of the business taking down its boards, it is unconfirmed.
The artist said that various business owners were open to the idea of murals that portrayed a messaging of peace, love and unity and others provided outlines of messaging they’d want to be portrayed.
Davison, who created Art Realm, an art collective to “prioritize creatives of color,” acknowledged that art is a “shield of protection for the businesses.”
“I believe artists should understand the businesses need them,” she said. “[…]It’s important to remember that even in this way aligning your art with a business who is not in full support of the movement is doing the movement a disservice.”