Last week, a piece of artwork Bastion Square became the centre of controversy after Victoria Police found that one of the letters incorporated the acronym ‘ACAB’ in its design. Now, a second local police detachment has issued a letter of support for altering the mural.
The mural on the ground was commissioned by the City of Victoria on August 14, and featured the work of 17 local artists who designed and painted the words ‘More Justice, More Peace’ to call attention to racial inequality and police brutality across North America after a wave of Black Lives Matter protests this summer.
However, when Victoria Police Chief Del Manak saw that the acronym ‘ACAB’—used to mean ‘All Cops Are Bastards/Bad’—was embedded into mural, he asked city staff to have it removed.
When city staff showed up to paint over the letters, BIPOC activists and the artists who painted them physically placed themselves on top of the mural to prevent it being altered. City staff left the scene and the situation was de-escalated for the time being.
The next day, police chief Del Manak issued a statement explaining his stance:
“The inclusion of ACAB is deeply disrespectful to the women and men of the Victoria Police Department… The Victoria Police Department, and I personally, stand behind the call for ‘More Justice, More Peace.’ Justice is not justice if it does not include all members of society. Excluding one group through harmful words seems counter to the very spirit of the mural itself.”
In response the artists issued their own statement addressing the issue:
“When we added ACAB to our piece, we did so as a statement against the mistreatment that is placed upon Black people by the police throughout North America particularly, as well as across the globe.”
Victoria city councillor Sharmarke Dubow also added his voice into the fray, arguing that police as a system are already included, legitimized, and authorized with power and resources, unlike the BIPOC youth trying to address injustices.
“For the police to evoke inclusion in this way is really to decontextualize and depoliticize what it is really about—systemic racism,” wrote Dubow.
“They could have used this as an opportunity to talk about what opportunity/gift it is that youth are giving them the chance to hear about what inclusion would mean for them and a chance to understand why a statement like that might be said and why it is important.”
According to the City of Victoria, discussions between the BIPOC artists and city staff are underway to reach a mutual solution.
But on Tuesday morning, West Shore RCMP decided to throw their weight behind their Victoria counterparts.
“Many police departments including my own detachment have lost officers in the line of duty,” writes Todd Preston, Officer in Charge of West Shore RCMP.
“The acronym ‘ACAB’ is particular[ly] disrespectful and hurtful to the dedicated police officers in our respective organizations as well as their families… The divisive language used in this mural is not the way forward.”
Preston adds that the West Shore RCMP detachment supports VicPD in their endeavour to have ‘ACAB’ removed from the mural.
For their part, the artists and activists who created the mural say they have no intention of letting anyone change their previously approved work.