A controversial anti-police acronym was removed from a mural in Bastion Square late Wednesday afternoon and replaced with a new message protesting the silencing of Black and Indigenous voices.
Following weeks of negotiations with the city, the artists agreed to paint over the acronym ACAB, which commonly refers to All Cops Are Bastards or All Cops Are Bad.
The acronym appeared inside a large letter “S” within the city-sponsored More Justice, More Peace mural, a joint effort by 17 artists to raise awareness of injustices suffered by Black and Indigenous people and people of colour.
The artists have decided to cover the entire letter “S” with a black rectangle containing three eagle feathers and the words: “This letter has been censored by the City of Victoria influenced by the Victoria Police Department. In doing so, Victoria is contributing to the silencing of Black and Indigenous voices and experiences across the land.”
Victoria Police Chief Del Manak previously called the presence of the ACAB acronym in the mural “deeply disrespectful.” The African Heritage Association of Vancouver Island, one of the mural’s sponsors, said that while it stood behind the mural’s message, it did not condone the use of the “offensive” acronym.
Victoria council eventually voted to remove the acronym at the earliest opportunity, while encouraging staff to continue discussions with the artists.
Mural organizer Charity Williams said there are “mixed feelings” about how the dispute was eventually resolved.
“It is a bit disappointing that our original true message is being erased and kind of disregarded in a way,” she said. “But, also, in this process we’ve had many conversations with the city and with city staff and I feel like we are going in the right direction.
“I guess we’re hopeful for the future, but it definitely does sting a little bit right now.”
Ultimately, Williams said she hopes the mural and the dispute over the letters will open up a deeper conversation in Victoria.
“I think there is often a lack of acknowledgement that happens here and a lack of ownership with how Victoria sometimes treats their BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Colour] communities,” she said.
“So I think what I would want from this is acknowledgement and just a way forward where everyone is seen and everyone is heard.”
City manager Jocelyn Jenkyns said in a statement that “while the mural will be changing, it will remain an honest representation of the artists’ experience.”
Jenkyns acknowledged the feelings expressed by people on both sides of the debate and said the city remains committed to supporting artists and public art.
“The 17 BIPOC artists who created the More Justice, More Peace mural have sparked an important conversation about systemic racism and discrimination in our city and in our country,” she said. “I want to thank the artists for coming together and for taking the time to discuss their experiences.”
In response to the issue, Victoria passed a motion this month to formally recognize the prevalence of systemic racism in the city and commit to addressing the problem everywhere that it exists.