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NSW police seek removal of Black Lives Matter mural on private property in Redfern, records show

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In the midst of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, New Wales police made several calls over a 24-hour period to instruct the city of Sydney to remove a Black Lives Matter mural depicting a burning police car.

A warning to indigenous readers, the following story contains the name of a deceased indigenous person.

New audio recordings obtained by ABC News Breakfast show that New South Wales police have called the city of Sydney at least four times in a 24-hour period since June 22 last year, asking to remove a mural inspired by Black Lives Matter.

The mural, painted on a private property on Glover Lane in the suburbs of Redfern, was created last June by artist Scott Marsh.

But he was removed within a day after NSW police inquiries into the city of Sydney.

The mural showed a police car burning with the name “TJ Hickey” written on the side.

Death of 17-year-old TJ Hickey caused the riots of Redfern in 2004.

In the audio recordings, police officers showed that they were under pressure from the authorities to remove the mural.

“This will cause some pretty significant problems and I was very interested from above,” an NSW police officer said.

A Sydney city spokesman said calls received by ABC had been made to their public customer service line.

Asked if there was a “racist or obscene swear word” on the mural from a customer service representative, a New South Wales police officer replied: “It’s ra … it’s a police car that burns.”

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An NSW police officer calls the customer service line

Officers told the customer service team that an “unmarked police car” was sitting next to the mural.

In a separate call, another officer reiterated that police officers were sitting waiting for graffiti removers.

As the mural had not yet been removed a few hours after the first call, police again said they were waiting for the demonstrators to remove the mural.

The mural was removed on June 23. Mr Marsh posted a video on his Instagram account where police watched him be painted over.

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Mr Marsh believes he has been censored by New Wales police. He said police should not have the right to “destroy legal works of art created on private property.”

“If the police had left the mural alone, it would not have attracted public attention, and we would not be talking about it now,” Mr Marsh said.

In a statement, an NSW police spokesman said South Sydney Police Command learned of an anti-police mural painted on the Redfern building after receiving several complaints from the community on June 22, 2020.

“Police spoke with the owner of the building and transferred the case to the local council, according to standard protocol.”

“It is unusual for the police to ask the council to remove unauthorized or offensive murals in response to concerns expressed by members of the public.”

A statement from a Sydney city spokesman said the council had removed the mural following a request from New Wales police.

“NSW police asked us to remove the mural, citing a request from the owner and public concern,” the spokesman said.

“The city is looking to find a balance between minimizing graffiti incidents on public and private property by removing them quickly, while providing legitimate opportunities to express public information and art.”

Police tape.
New Wales police say it is unusual for them to ask the city of Sydney to remove offensive murals.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

“I was shocked,” says TJ Hickey’s mother

The coronation investigation revealed that TJ Hickey’s death was a “strange accident” and police are not responsible, but his family disagrees.

The teenager was killed when he lost control of his bicycle and hit a fence near Redfern Park.

The incident sparked a nine-hour riot that left the Redfern railway station on fire and police pelted stones, bricks and bottles, injuring more than 40 officers.

Mr. Hickey’s family believes he was being chased by a police car when he died

His mother, Gail Hickey, said in a statement that she was “shocked” to see that New Wales police had asked to remove the mural.

Mr Marsh painted the mural after seeing an image from the Black Lives Matter protests in New York. The mural was with a New York police car, which was spray-painted “George” – link to George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer a year ago.

“The image actually made my skin tingle, it was such a powerful symbol for all the accumulated pain and frustration of the community,” Mr Marsh said.

A fresco of the Black Lives Matter in New York City with a burning New York City police car with the words “George” on the side.
A fresco of the Black Lives Matter in New York City with a burning New York City police car with the words “George” on the side.(Instagram: @scottiemarsh)

The expert believes that the mural does not violate criminal law

Luke McNamara, co-director of the UNSW Center for Crime, Law and Justice, told ABC he believes the mural does not violate criminal law.

The mural was painted on the wall on Ambour Hardware after Mr Marsh received approval from owner Joe Ambour.

In 2014, the New Wales Graffiti Control Act was reformed to include owner consent as a provision on whether paintings, markings and street art on property or premises are an offense.

“The Parliament of New South Wales has taken a deliberate step to make the consent of the owner a major factor in whether we consider the conduct criminal or not,” said Professor McNamara.

Professor Luke McNamara of the University of New South Wales.
Professor McNamara believes there should be a question as to why the New Wales police got involved.(Author: Anna Kuchera)

Professor McNamara said that the fact that consent was given to the creation of art, in the first place raised a “huge question” as to whether there is something criminal in this behavior.

After the mural was removed last year, Mr Ambour said he had been asked to sign a statement from New South Wales police to prevent the March from using his property to paint future works of art.

“He said, come on [your wall] for someone else, it’s your wall, but we don’t want problems. But give it to someone other than Scott Marsh. So anyone can paint something, like artists, but not Scott Marsh – it’s that simple. “

“I said, yes, good. I didn’t want any problems, I just signed. “

In a photo of the written statement, Joe Ambour said he was asked to sign by NSW police.
Joe Ambour says he was asked to sign this written statement by NSW police.(Supplied)

Mr Ambour said he was not forced or forced to sign the statement, but police told him the mural would lead to violence.

Associate Professor Amelia Thorpe, who specializes in legislation in planning, property and local government, said the city of Sydney has a broader definition when it comes to graffiti policy.

Street artists need to get the approval of both the property owner and the city of Sydney, she explained.

Associate Professor Amelia Thorpe of the University of New South Wales.
Amelia Thorpe says the removal of the mural was in line with Sydney’s anti-graffiti policy.(Presented by: Dr. Amelia Thorpe)

However, according to the city’s environmental plan, street art is exempt from development approval if it does not advertise business, is not depicted in a heritage site, or does not contain offensive, sexual, or discriminatory material.

“So there’s a very interesting dynamic when the city says it supports street art, but it’s really willing to go and paint it,” Dr. Thorpe said.

“This is certainly not the only example I know of, there are other cases where this has happened. And it fits into the city’s graffiti removal policy. “

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