TAMPA, Fla. — The city’s newest public art project appeared over the weekend outside Tampa Police Department headquarters after organizers worked for weeks to get approval from the city for a “Back the Blue” pro-police mural.
The city didn’t approve it, but organizers armed with paint and orange cones created the mural anyway, Tampa Bay Times reported.
Kristen Krutz, one of the organizers, helped spearhead the project along with others from Back the Blue Florida, an online community with more than 5,000 members. She said the mural is meant to show law enforcement personnel that they have support, which is desperately needed as cops are being maligned as never before.
“They’re being defunded and things that they need and require to do their job are not going to be provided anymore,” said Krutz, 36. “Obviously, that would make anybody feel unappreciated, unwanted, and that’s the opposite of what we wanted them to see with the mural on the street.”
Thus far, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said she does not support defunding police, even though some citizens have called for it.
Krutz and about 40 other people painted the mural Saturday evening in the middle of East Madison Street. The mural spans the block and is painted with the black, white and blue colors of the pro-police “Thin Blue Line” flag.
Krutz said she filed a records request with the city for permits issued for Black Lives Matter murals and was told none were issued. City of Tampa spokesperson Ashley Bauman said the murals were approved as part of the city’s Art on the Block day.
Therefore, Back the Blue organizers followed suit. Without obtaining a permit, Krutz said, they used orange cones and their personal vehicles to block the road while they worked.
“The reason why we decided to proceed without a permit is because Black Lives Matter has murals all over the city that say Black Lives Matter, and they were not permitted,” Krutz said.
Bauman said the Back the Blue mural was in the process of approval. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times Monday, Mayor Castor — who has served as Tampa police chief — said any tribute to honor law enforcement’s service is welcome.
“It’s unfortunate they didn’t see the permitting process through so that our community could participate in showing their appreciation for the brave men and women that service our residents every day,” Castor said.
Nevertheless, some citizens have discounted the value of the mural. It has been criticized on social media as ugly and difficult to read, according to the Times. Some posts suggested “accidentally” spilling paint over it. The headline in alternative weekly Creative Loafing: “Everyone’s roasting Tampa’s hilariously bad ‘Bock The Blub’ street mural.”
One local artist who was instrumental in creating a rainbow fist to support BLM and LGBTQ said he can understand supporting law enforcement, but he feels the Back the Blue mural is a retaliation against the Black Lives Matter movement and its murals. He said it feels like those who painted the mural are pushing back against people who are just asking not to be killed.
Krutz’s husband designed the Back the Blue mural. She said said she expects it to be vandalized, even though local Black Lives Matter murals have remained untouched so far. Anyone who would do this shows disdain for First Amendment rights, she said.
“There’s no doubt if they go out there and deface this mural that somebody is going to deface theirs,” Krutz said. “That’s what irritates me. And it’s not going to be me. But it’s going to happen.”
Krutz said she emailed Castor over several days starting July 16 about getting approval for the Back the Blue mural. Krutz suggested two possible slogans: “Blue Lives Matter,” and, “Back the Blue,” along with two possible locations. Krutz was referred to city staff and was sent a guide with steps on painting an intersection in Tampa.
A GoFundMe fundraiser brought in a little more than $1,100 for the mural and Krutz said she sent a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to city officials. Krutz was told the proposal needs to be brought to the City Council for approval.
Jeffrey Stull, an attorney who represents the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, sent a letter Friday to Castor, saying the police union supported the project and asking her to direct city staff to move quickly to grant Krutz permission.
Krutz said she spoke the same day with Marley Wilkes, Tampa’s director of the office of governmental affairs and strategic initiatives, and was told the city would let her know if she was granted permission.
The mural is the only one of its kind in the United States painted on a street, Krutz said. A group in New York City called for a “Blue Lives Matter” mural in July but it hasn’t materialized. In Tulsa, after a pro-police group asked for its own mural, the city decided to remove a Black Lives Matter mural rather than let one with a pro-police message stand.
In Montpelier, Vermont the city council unanimously rejected a petition to paint an American flag and the phrase “Liberty and Justice for All” in front of the Vermont State House, Law Officer reported.
The local governing authority made its decision in a contentious July meeting where the members heard arguments for the murals from GOP gubernatorial candidate John Klar and several other supporters. Klar wanted to paint the flag on one side of an existing “Black Lives Matter” motto on the street, and the phrase “Liberty and Justice for All” in red, white, and blue painted on the other side.
The city council rejected the petition on appeal after the Montpelier city manager’s office rejected a petition by Klar to close State Street in order to paint the mural.
Redwood City, California quietly scrubbed away its Black Lives Matter mural from a city street after a resident asked to paint a similar “MAGA 2020” on the same road, Law Officer reported.