Up against the wall: ‘Cop Watch’ mural teaches civil rights

Up against the wall: ‘Cop Watch’ mural teaches civil rights
Photo by Jordan Rathkopf

Call it an arresting image.

A Sunset Park artist has painted a mural that he hopes will educate locals about their rights when dealing with police. The piece, a collaboration between illustrator Angel Garcia and activist group New York City Cop Watch, breaks down six key rights when interacting with police. The art is meant as a measure of security for people who do not feel like police are keeping them safe, Garcia said.

“The police no longer give you and idea of protection, they give you a sense of fear and doubt,” he said. “So I think it’s important that people are aware of these things. The mural can go beyond something on a wall, people can learn something from it that might help them.”

The mural is split into two parts. One section, written in Spanish and English, contains a list of civil rights for those stopped by police, such as the right to an attorney, and the right to decline a warrantless search.

The second section features an artistic rendering of a tree, meant to symbolize community. The “roots” are figures standing together arm in arm pointing up toward a pair of handcuffs. Two bird-like hands break the shackles apart, representing freedom from oppression through knowledge, said Garcia. And the tree’s “leaves” are neighbors coming together to support one another.

Garcia hopes the creative approach appeals to Sunset Parkers — and keeps them vigilant, he said.

“The mural is the best way to communicate a message and that message is to know your rights,” said Garcia. “For me, when I create a mural it has to serve a purpose — in addition to it being colorful and inviting — it’s important that it be informative and not just a pretty picture on the wall.”

Students from Sunset Park High School helped Garcia and Cop Watch design the project, which organizers plan to translate the work into other languages common to the nabe, such as Arabic and Chinese, according to Garcia.

Anyone wishing to volunteer to translate can e-mail Angel at angelgarciaart@gmail.com or NYC Cop Watch at copwatchsp@gmail.com.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2517. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Know your rights: The mural lists six short and sweet digestions of key rights for interacting with police.
Photo by Jordan Rathkopf