Palo Alto, CA – Five Palo Alto police officers have filed a lawsuit against the city for allowing a Black Lives Matter mural with a distinctly anti-police message to remain on the street in front of police headquarters last summer.
The Palo Alto City Council authorized the creation of the Black Lives Matter mural on June 15, 2020 amid nationwide unrest following the death of George Floyd as he was being arrested by the Minneapolis police, the Palo Alto Daily Post reported.
The finished mural, painted a week later, was 245 feet long and included pictures inside all of the letters spelling out Black Lives Matter.
In the letter “E,” activists painted an image of convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard, the Palo Alto Daily Post reported.
Chesimard, a prison escapee who now goes by the name of Assata Shakur, gained notoriety after the 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, who was executed with his own duty weapon along the edge of the New Jersey Turnpike, New Jersey Advance Media reported.
With the help of three gunmen, she escaped from prison in 1979, and has been living under political asylum in Cuba since at least 1984.
Over the years, Chesimard became “an inspiration to the radical, left-wing, anti-government black separatist movement,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Aaron Ford said in 2013.
“While living openly and freely in Cuba, she continues to maintain and promote her terrorist ideology. She provides anti-U.S.-government speeches, espousing the Black Liberation Army’s message of revolution and terrorism,” Agent Ford said.
The FBI and the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office currently have a combined reward offer of $2 million for information leading to 71-year-old Chesimard’s capture.
The Palo Alto mural also included the logo of the New Black Panthers, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a black nationalist hate group that encouraged violence against white people and Jewish people, the Palo Alto Daily Post reported.
The mural was painted on the street in front of City Hall, but the Palo Alto Police Department’s headquarters is located on the opposite side of the street at 275 Forest Avenue, along the same stretch of roadway.
Both entrances to the police department’s parking lot were located within a half of a block from the Black Lives Matter mural, according to the Palo Alto Daily Post.
Attorneys filed the suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court on June 4 on behalf of Palo Alto Police Officers Eric Figueroa, Michael Foley, Christopher Moore, Robert Parham, and Julie Tannock.
The lawsuit filed by the officers said the city never should have allowed such imagery in front of the police department.
“Law enforcement officers, including the plaintiffs, were forced to physically pass and confront the mural and its offensive, discriminatory and harassing iconography every time they entered the Palo Alto Police Department,” the officers’ complaint read.
“Defendants created and allowed to exist the aforementioned discriminatory and harassing work environment,” the lawsuit read. “Not only did the defendants allow the harassing and discriminatory iconography to exist in the workplace, but they also sanctioned, approved, encouraged, and paid for it.”
The lawsuit said that officers notified “people above them in the chain of command” that they felt the mural violated the state Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Palo Alto Daily Post reported.
But despite those complaints, the city “ratified the conduct and insisted that it remain and persist,” according to the complaint.
The lawsuit alleged that the mural was a form of discrimination against the police officers who filed it based on their race, national origin, and/or color, the Palo Alto Daily Post reported.
The National Police Association (NPA) demanded the city remove the mural in July of 2020 and called it an “atrocity” to celebrate a cop killer in front of City Hall.
“For law enforcement required to enter the building, is there any description other than a hostile work environment?” NPA asked in a written statement.
The artist who painted Chesimard into the mural, Cece Carpio, said her inclusion was essential because the nation’s “status quo” sees her as a threat to “racial capitalism and white supremacy,” the Palo Alto Daily Post reported.
The city had defended the mural and said it would remain on the street for a year, but it was gone by November of 2020.