They worked in the heat of the day under the rays of the sun.
While the rest of the city celebrated July 4 with cookouts and pool parties, a few dozen activists, organizers and artists traded spatulas and sparklers for paintbrushes and chalk to create a new mural next to the Guilford County jail.
The mural was the third work of art to be painted on Greensboro streets since the city began authorizing projects led by the community in the name of public art. However, the new mural outside of the jail was not authorized by the city.
Five people were arrested after dozens of Greensboro police officers and Guilford County sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene towards the end of the mural painting. Four were arrested for injury to real property and one of them was also charged with assaulting Sheriff Chief Deputy Steve Parr. The four individuals were released on written promises to appear while the one individual who had the added assault charge was released on a $50 bail. Triad City Beat is not releasing the names of the individuals arrested because of concerns for their safety.
“Divest,” reads the black painted letters on the wide sidewalk outside of the building off Edgeworth Street in downtown Greensboro.
One of the organizers, who wished to remain anonymous for their personal safety, said painting the mural outside of the jail was intentional.
“Nationally, people are painting on roads,” they said. “We were able to see that play out in a way that’s largely milquetoast here. There’s nothing wrong with a ‘One Love’ mural, and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ mural is great, but just five years ago, the city was completely opposed to this idea…. These things are nice, but they aren’t demanding or asking anything. They’re just statements.”
This new mural, the organizer said, is different.
“This is active,” they said. “It’s a policy request. That’s a major distinction.”
The group, which was organized by mostly Black and Brown individuals, also released a list of demands that correspond with the mural. Among the demands are an increase in funding to Black communities in east Greensboro, divesting from the police and ending arrests for marijuana.
“Investment in Black futures, in Black life, is being demanded,” the statement reads. “Investment is being pushed as policy change, transparency and actual power for checks and balances to keep the people safe from police misconduct. It’s your move, Greensboro.”
Both the mural and the demands come after weeks of protests for Black lives have taken place across the country after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police on May 25.
The group decided to paint in broad daylight for their safety, but knew it would make them more visible.
“It was a race against time,” said the organizer.
An incident report by the sheriff’s department states that a deputy reported that the jail was being vandalized when a “large group of vandals defaced public property by painting the sidewalk with concrete stain.”
According to public information officers for the Greensboro police department and the Guilford County sheriff’s office, 15 police officers and 16 sheriff’s deputies responded to the call.
At first, the officers just stood nearby and watched them paint, the organizer told TCB.
Then things quickly changed about 10 minutes later when one of the officers told some of the activists that they would have to remove the paint, or they would be arrested. At that point, the organizer said they tried to get as many people out of the area as possible but that a handful of people were arrested.
“We were told that everybody regardless of our level of involvement would be arrested,” they said. “They didn’t give us any time, they just started moving in. It was so chaotic.”
In video footage provided to TCB, two people can be seen falling to the ground as they are arrested. It is unclear whether they tripped or were forced to the ground by officers. Nearby, a person lies face down on the sidewalk as they are handcuffed with arms behind their back. Another individual, the one charged with assault, can be seen tripping and then being handcuffed and escorted away from the sidewalk. No assault could be seen on the footage provided to TCB. Chief Deputy Steve Parr, who is listed as the victim of the assault in a police report, declined to comment on the incident.
The individual who was charged with the assault did not respond to requests for comment in time of publication.
Now, the organizer said that they want all of the charges against those involved dropped.
“The city needs to listen to the people and the demands that was listed,” they said. “This is a moment where the city has an ability to set an example of what it means to really defund. Money and budgets are ultimately a reflection of priorities…. We’re in this larger political moment that’s part of a movement that’s been going on since 1492…. Greensboro is a majority-minority city. It needs to act like it. It needs to show us that it cares…. The policy and where the money goes does not reflect that. It needs to take appropriate action.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, half of the mural had been washed away, leaving only a few letters behind.