Last Wednesday, 29-year old graffiti artist Tashif Turner was painting a mural in northeast Detroit when he was arrested by two police officers.
In Detroit as elsewhere, vandalism is a crime. But Turner, who goes by the name Sheefy McFly, wasn’t just tagging public property for fun. He was completing a commission for the city.
The mural Turner was working on was one of 10 he had been asked to do, for which he was being paid a total of $10,000. The project was run by City Walls, an initiative established in 2017 to decorate parts of Detroit that have suffered from decades of neglect. Organizers also connect artists with local business leaders and run residency programs.
When the police officers approached Turner, he tried to find his city permit, a printed document he had successfully produced earlier in the week, when he was first approached by police. But this time, he realized he had forgotten it in his car, and he tried to convince the officers to let him retrieve it.
“When I tried to walk towards my bag, they tried to act like I was resisting arrest and trying to run,” he said, according to the Metro Times.
Although a city employee came out to vouch for Turner, the situation escalated when more officers were called to the scene, according to the Detroit Free Press. After Turner was arrested, a spokesperson for the Detroit Police Department said he had been uncooperative and resisted arrest, and was being held due to an outstanding traffic ticket.
“They treated me like a felon even though I was commissioned by the city to do this,” the artist, who spent a night in jail, later said. “I may go back next week, but I need some days to collect myself and figure out how I can be safe. I feel racially profiled and bullied.”
“A program that spans such a wide area and so many works of public art is a new concept and it was unfortunate that Sheefy was arrested as the program kicked off,” said Jesse Cory, the chief executive of 1xRUN, which connects artists to the City Walls program. “Ensuring communication and education between city officials and police officers is a top priority of the project as it expands throughout the year.”
Turner did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
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