Oak Park's Black Lives Matter street mural on Scoville Avenue was defaced during the night of Tuesday, July 7 by unknown vandals who painted over certain letters to make the mural read, "ALL LIVES MATTER."
"It's disheartening to wake up to this," said Cullen Benson, who conceived the idea for the mural and organized its execution with Cortlyn Kelly and Franka Del Santo.
Crews from the Oak Park Public Works Department were at the scene early Wednesday morning and have since power washed most of the damage away. What can't be removed will be repainted as soon as possible.
The Oak Park Police Department is investigating the incident, Oak Park spokesman David Powers confirmed.
"Police are actively investigating the incident and will release more details as they become available," Powers told Wednesday Journal.
According to Benson, police are checking nearby security cameras to see if the footage contains any shots of the vandals.
Groups of volunteers helped paint the brightly colored "BLACK LIVES MATTER" message, which was completed and unveiled at the end of last month. The Oak Park Area Arts Council funded the project.
The vandals painted over the "B" and "L" in "BLACK," making the two letters blend in with the surrounding dark asphalt. The "C" and "K" were also covered with black paint. In their place, the vandals painted in white "LL."
"They had this planned out by painting over letters to create the word 'ALL' out of 'BLACK,'" said Benson.
The phrase "all lives matter" is commonly used as a refutation and criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement, but many believe the phrase dismisses racial inequity and systemic racism in American society.
The act of vandalism did not shock Benson or the other organizers. They had expected it might happen, but it still disappointed them.
"We all know that this is the world that we live in," he said. "We hoped that someplace like Oak Park wasn't subject to something like this, but it was always something that we had to consider."
Some of the unwanted additions to the mural did surprise Benson, however.
"On each letter they put a little smiley face, which is quite weird," he said. "They put on a couple of letters 'love you.'"
Benson's mother Mak Flournoy took to Facebook to express her own sadness that the mural her son and others helped to create was damaged.
"Their Black Lives Matter mural was a gift to Oak Park and yet last night, someone decided that they needed to take their hate fueled time, to deface it," Flournoy wrote.
Flournoy also wrote she was angry that she had to explain to Benson's ten-year-old sister "why it is that Black people, Blackness, and Black beauty continue to be erased from history."
A similar instance of vandalism occurred in Montez, California, when a man and a woman were caught on camera painting over a Black Lives Matter mural July 4; the two now face hate crime charges.
The vandalism of Oak Park's mural has saddened and angered many people in the community. To show support for both the mural and its message, plans to gather at the mural, which sits on Scoville between Lake Street and North Boulevard, Wednesday evening have spread on social media.
The Oak Park village board of trustees recently committed to protecting the mural. On July 6, before the vandalism occurred, the board passed a motion directing village staff to prepare actions to preserve and protect the mural should it be vandalized.
Benson expects it will only cost a few hundred dollars to fix the damage. The mural, he believes, will be restored to its original state, if not a grander one.
He also believes the injury the mural sustained adds a new layer to the wider story.
"It's just another piece to the story and the history behind the movement," he said. "It shows that this is still very much a country divided."
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