NSW Police pressed for Black Lives Matter mural on private property in Redfern to be removed, records show
At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests last year, NSW Police made several calls over a 24-hour period asking the City of Sydney to remove a Black Lives Matter mural depicting a police car in fire.
A warning to Indigenous readers, the following story contains the name of a deceased Indigenous person.
- Audio recordings obtained by ABC reveal police called Sydney city at least four times in a 24-hour period
- Wall artist Scott Marsh says he was censored by NSW police
- Mother of Aboriginal teenager whose death sparked the 2004 Redfern riots ‘shocked’ by NSW police who removed mural
New audio recordings obtained by ABC News Breakfast reveal that New South Wales police officers called the city of Sydney at least four times in a 24-hour period from June 22 last year, asking them to remove the Black Lives Matter inspired mural.
The mural, painted on private property in Glover Lane in the downtown suburb of Redfern, was created last June by artist Scott Marsh.
But it was deleted within a day of NSW Police requests to the City of Sydney.
The mural showed a burning police car with the name “TJ Hickey” written on the side.
The death of 17-year-old TJ Hickey sparked the Redfern Riots in 2004.
In audio recordings, police said they were under pressure from their superiors to have the mural removed.
“This is going to cause some pretty big problems and I have a lot of interest from above,” said an NSW police officer.
A spokesperson for the City of Sydney said the calls obtained by the ABC were made to their public customer service line.
When asked by a council customer service representative if the mural had “racist or foul language,” an NSW police officer replied: “It has become ra … it’s a police car that’s in fire.”
Officers told the customer service team that they had an “unmarked police vehicle” sitting near the mural.
On a separate call, another officer reiterated that police had officers sitting waiting for graffiti removers.
With the mural still not removed hours after the first call, officers again said they were waiting for the movers to remove the mural.
The fresco was removed on June 23. Mr Marsh posted a video of the police looking at the painting on his Instagram account.
Mr. Marsh believes he was censored by NSW Police. He said the police should not have the power to “destroy legal works of art created on private property.”
“If the police had left the mural alone, it would not have received national attention back then and we would not be talking about it now,” Mr. Marsh said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the NSW Police Force said officers from the South Sydney Police Area Command were made aware of an anti-police mural painted on a building in Redfern after receiving several complaints from the community on the 22 June 2020.
“The police spoke to the owner of the building and referred the matter to the local council, as is standard protocol.”
“It is not uncommon for police to ask council to remove unauthorized or offensive murals in response to concerns expressed by members of the public.”
In a statement, a City of Sydney spokesperson said council removed the mural at the request of NSW Police.
“NSW Police have asked us to remove the mural, citing a request from the owner and community concerns,” the spokesperson said.
“The City strives to strike a balance between minimizing incidents of graffiti on public and private property through prompt removal while providing legitimate avenues for the expression of community information and art.
“I was shocked,” says TJ Hickey’s mother
A coronary inquest found TJ Hickey’s death was a “freak accident” and police were not responsible, but his family disagreed with the findings.
The teenager was killed when he lost control of his bike and impaled himself on a fence next to Redfern Park.
The incident sparked a nine-hour riot in which Redfern train station was set on fire and police were bombarded with stones, bricks and bottles, leaving more than 40 police officers injured.
Mr Hickey’s family believe he was being chased by a police car when he died
Her mother, Gail Hickey, said in a statement she was “shocked” when she saw NSW police asking for the mural to be removed.
Mr. Marsh painted the mural after seeing an image of the Black Lives Matter protests in New York City. The mural featured a New York City police car on fire with “George” spray painted on it – a reference to George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer a year ago.
“The image actually gave me goosebumps, it was such a powerful symbol for all the pain and frustration that a community has accumulated,” Mr. Marsh said.
Expert believes mural did not violate criminal law
Luke McNamara, co-director of the UNSW Center for Crime, Law and Justice, told the ABC he believes the mural does not violate criminal law.
The mural was painted on a wall on Ambour Hardware after Mr. Marsh received approval from owner Joe Ambour.
In 2014, the New South Wales Graffiti Control Act was reformed to include owner consent as a stipulation as to whether paintings, markings and street art on properties or the premises were an offense.
“The New South Wales Parliament has made a conscious decision to make owner’s consent an essential ingredient in whether or not we regard the conduct as criminal or not,” said Professor McNamara.
Professor McNamara said that the fact that consent was given for the art to be created in the first place raised a “huge question” as to whether there was something criminal about the behavior.
After the mural was removed last year, Mr Ambour said he was asked to sign a statement by NSW Police to prevent Mr Marsh from using his property to paint future artwork .
“He said to give [your wall] to someone else it’s your wall but we don’t want trouble. But give it to anyone else except Scott Marsh. So anyone can paint anything, like artists painting, but not Scott Marsh, it’s that simple. “
“I said, Yeah, okay. I didn’t want any trouble, I just signed it.”
Mr Ambour said he was not coerced or coerced into signing the statement, but police told him the mural would result in violence.
Associate Professor Amelia Thorpe, who specializes in planning, property and local government law, said the city of Sydney has a broader definition when it comes to graffiti policy.
Street performers must seek approval from both the property owner and the City of Sydney, she explained.
However, under the city’s environmental plan, street art is exempt from development approval if it does not advertise a business, paint on a heritage conservation area, or contains no offensive, sexually explicit or discriminatory material.
“So there is a very interesting dynamic there when the city says it supports street art, but is really ready to go paint it,” Dr Thorpe said.
“This is certainly not the only example I know of; there are other cases where it has happened. And it fits with the city’s graffiti removal policy.”