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Mural depicting Ahmaud Arbery is defaced in San Diego

Pink paint covers part of a mural of Ahmaud Arbery painted on plywood on a boarded-up restaurant
A mural of Ahmaud Arbery is seen Tuesday after being defaced along University Avenue in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood.
(Ana Ramirez / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A mural in San Diego depicting Ahmaud Arbery, whose killing in Georgia resulted in a trial in which three men were convicted of murder last week, has been defaced.

It is unclear when the portrait of Arbery on the boarded-up windows of the Pekin Cafe Chop Suey restaurant in the North Park neighborhood was defaced with light pink paint.

Lt. Adam Sharki, a spokesperson for the San Diego Police Department, said officers became aware of the paint after a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter asked about it Tuesday. Sharki said no one had reported the incident.

Pamuela Halliwell, a North Park resident and president of the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition, said she noticed the damage while she was driving home from work Sunday afternoon.

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“It startled me instantly,” said Halliwell, who pulled over and took a photo of the defaced mural, which she shared on social media.

“It’s disgusting, it’s disgraceful, it’s disappointing and completely disrespectful of the fact that [Arbery] was killed by these three people who had no business interacting with him in the first place,” she said.

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased on Feb. 23, 2020, by three white men who saw him jogging outside in their coastal Georgia suburb. Gregory McMichael, 65, and his son Travis McMichael, 35, told police they suspected Arbery was a fleeing burglar; their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan recorded cellphone video as he drove his truck in pursuit before the younger McMichael shot Arbery dead.

Halliwell noted that Black Lives Matter banners at the nearby Rich’s nightclub and University Christian Church in Hillcrest were defaced in February.

“It really speaks to the hate that’s still within our communities,” she said.

After the San Diego Police Department learned about the damage to the mural, officers contacted the property owners, who did not want police to pursue a criminal investigation, Sharki said.

Jonny Pucci, the artist who painted the mural, said he plans to restore the artwork next week after he returns from a trip to Italy.

“Given the state of the nation, I’m really surprised that it’s lasted this long,” the 35-year-old artist and North Park resident said.

He said several strangers contacted him on Instagram in recent days to alert him to the damage. Many were angry.

“I am not angry,” Pucci said. “It doesn’t make me angry; it just disappoints me. How is it somebody sees a painting of somebody that was murdered, with a message that says, ‘Spread love,’ and they say, ‘No, I don’t like it?’”

The mural also includes a portrait of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by Louisville police in her apartment on March 13, 2020, after her boyfriend fired at plainclothes officers who had a no-knock warrant and had burst into the home. Around the portrait of Taylor are the words “Respect life.”

Pucci painted the mural in the days after the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd, whose killing by then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin sparked nationwide protests and renewed calls for racial justice and police reform.

At the time, many businesses in San Diego and across the nation were boarded up. Pucci asked several business owners if he could paint a mural on their plywood, but several said they didn’t want to display a political statement, Pucci said.

Then he came across the Chop Suey restaurant. Pucci painted the portraits over the course of two days, at times while protesters walked by. They would tell him his work was important and would thank him, he said.

“I just really wanted to do something because the whole movement was really important to me and I wanted to just give my voice and support in whatever way I could,” Pucci said.

This is not the first time Pucci’s artwork has been defaced. He said someone wrote a racial slur with a marker on a mural he painted of the late Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, a Black American cycling legend, in Denver.


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