Officials in a suburb of Detroit, where a new mural was called “pro-police,” removed an accompanying tile showing a skull and crossbones logo, which critics view as a censure for the racial justice movement.
The tile featured the skull images associated with a violent vigilante character in Marvel Comics named Punisher and a representation of the “Thin Blue Line” flag, a combination that some police officers say is a show of solidarity for law enforcement , but has also become associated with right-wing extremism.
“We made the decision to remove it,” said Michael C. Taylor, the mayor of Sterling Heights, who added that his city would replace the tile but did not plan to scrap the rest of the mural. “We don’t want this one piece to detract from the purpose of the mural, which is to honor police service in the community.”
The tiles were made by local police officers and their families in workshops at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which sponsored the mural. Most of the tiles focused on symbols of peace and love.
The law enforcement mural unveiled on the outside of the Sterling Heights Police Station last week has also been criticized, but had more to do with the timing of its arrival and the role of the museum. Critics said the public discussion should instead focus on issues of police aggression.
The artist behind the 6 by 9 meter mural, Nicole Macdonald, then rejected the painting and asked for it to be removed. She said that she no longer felt it was appropriate and that she felt used by the museum that paid for the work as part of an initiative that brings cultural programs to the surrounding counties whose tax dollars support their work.
Police officers have defended the mural, suggesting it is meant to depict a diversified police force working in unison with their community.
Other tiles that accompany the mural have references to the “Thin Blue Line” icon, but the Mayor of Sterling Heights said those posts would remain on view.
On Wednesday afternoon, museum directors posted a letter apologizing to staff for any inconvenience the unveiling of the mural may have caused them. The controversy comes at a time when the Detroit Museum is faced with the question of whether it is doing enough to serve the needs of the predominantly black city it is in or the colored people among its staff.
“As a management team, we know that there have been a lot of failures and mistakes in this process. We deeply apologize to all of you and pledge to do better in the near future, ”reads the letter signed by the museum’s director, Salvador Salort-Pons, and other senior executives. “Under the tiles was a picture that was particularly offensive to many in our ward. Had we been aware of its symbolism, recently appropriated by white supremacist groups, we absolutely would not have allowed it. “