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Vandals smash Breonna Taylor sculpture in Oakland

A sculpture of Breonna Taylor
A bust honoring Breonna Taylor was smashed in Oakland over the weekend.
(Nenna Joiner)

In what officials are calling a vicious attack and an act of hatred, a bust honoring Breonna Taylor was smashed in Oakland over the weekend.

Emblazoned with the phrase “Say Her Name,” the ceramic bust was found vandalized the day after Christmas, two weeks after it was installed in the city’s downtown area.

The artwork commemorated Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman shot to death by police inside her Louisville, Ky., apartment during a botched drug raid in March. The deaths of Taylor and other Black people killed by police, such as George Floyd, have spurred America’s reckoning with generations of racial injustice and sparked massive protests across the country.

Oakland police are investigating but provided few details.

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Leo Carson, the artist who created the bust, called the vandalism an “attack on the Black Lives Matter movement, an attack on Breonna Taylor, and an attempt of intimidation.”

But rather than crush those voices, Carson, 30, said, “actually, we’ve proven exactly the opposite.”

News of the vandalism garnered attention for what was a quiet, independently conceived project. That has now translated into support — including donations — to bring the bust back in a sturdier form.

A GoFundMe page launched Sunday to raise $5,000 to reconstruct the work in bronze exceeded its goal in less than 24 hours. Now nearing $8,000, Carson said any money not spent on rebuilding the sculpture will be given to Taylor’s family.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Carson lost his job as a server at a burger restaurant in nearby Berkeley. He used the extra time to design the sculpture over several months. Once it was installed, he said, he was enthused to see members of the community taking photos of the work and enjoying it.

Carson, who lives in Oakland, was notified of the vandalism in an Instagram message Saturday evening and went to see his artwork. When he saw the damage, he said, he felt “really shook and overwhelmed.”

After surveying the damage, Carson thinks the vandal — or vandals — struck the work twice: once on the back of the sculpted head and once across the shoulder. Photos circulating online show large chunks broken from the bust.

In a tweet Monday morning, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called the vandalism “a vicious attack” and said that Oakland would not tolerate “acts of hatred.”

Oakland “has a lot of work to do,” Carson said, in terms of enacting antiracist policies. He said he wants to see the city reduce funding for the police and increase spending on affordable housing, public schools and other institutions in need.

Soon, Carson will undertake the lengthy process of casting the work in bronze and building a stronger stand to hold the increased weight of the metal. And he says he won’t be giving up his activism; he’s been tapped to speak at a political rally in Seattle in early January.

“I’m an activist even before I’m an artist,” he said.


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