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Michael Stewart Memorial / Commemoration

On September 28,1983, Michael Stewart died from his injuries after his violent arrest by New York City transit police officers. He was arrested for drawing a graffiti tag in the 1st Avenue L train subway station. He was 25 years old.

His death outraged the city, but there was hope in 1985 when the arresting officers were finally indicted and eventually tried for criminally negligent homicide in New York State criminal court. However, when all the officers were found not guilty, this injustice fell into a familiar pattern—there were no consequences for this killing, the memory of his brutal death faded, and eventually attention moved onto the next death of a black New Yorker at the hands of police. You can read a general overview of the Michael Stewart death here.

As with many who were living in the city at that time, I was deeply upset by the killing of Michael Stewart. Over the years, I have installed and then re-installed several lock memorials to commemorate his life and the infuriating injustice of his death. You can see the first one (top) and a recent example (middle).

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in June 2020, many protest murals were installed in NYC —on boarded up windows of stores and businesses, especially in SOHO— that called for justice in police brutality cases. A young artist, Amir Diop, created several murals during that time. One collaborative mural (left) was both a commemoration of Michael Stewart's death and a tribute to the Jean-Michel Basquiat painting Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983. Diop thought it was important to remind people that "Black Lives Matter" is not just a recent fight for justice. Violence against people of color has be going on for decades (let alone hundreds of years), and it’s important to remember people like Michael Stewart. You can see more of Amir Diop’s work here.

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