Artist Jeremie “bacpac” Franko was working on a commission for a client on March 29 when she got the call: Her mural The Price of Black Lives, a tribute to George Floyd she’d created last year in the Oak Street Alley at the corner of Oak and 15th streets, had been defaced.
Franko had depicted Floyd on the face of a $20 bill. The vandals put Xs across his eyes and mouth, and scrawled the word “FENTANYL” across his forehead (suggesting that it was the drug that killed Floyd and not someone kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes).
Her first instinct was to rush over and fix the painting, she says, but she asked a few friends for advice.
“Immediately, a friend said, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t even give them a minute of your time,’” Franko recalls. “I thought: That’s where we’re going to disagree. Because it’s not about who wins here. It’s that my message has just been hijacked. You can’t take my art and put your message on it and let it just burn there.”
The next morning, she showed up, ready to fix the mural. She found an outpouring of community support.
A resident of the neighborhood brought a generator by so Franko could paint using an air compressor — and play her music.
“You gotta have music when you paint,” she says. “I was playing Public Enemy, ‘Fight the Power,’ all day.”
Other neighbors dropped by with water, or offers to help pay for her supplies and time.
“I said no. I didn’t get paid to do it, and I’m not getting paid to fix it,” Franko says. “It’s a message, and what I get out of it is what we all get out of it: the conversation.”
It took Franko 13 hours to paint the mural last June; she only had about four and a half hours to do the fixes earlier this week. Because of this, she doesn’t think the portrait of Floyd is as good as the original.
“It’s not about the accuracy. If anyone starts talking about it, well … go paint it yourself. Go paint another one,” she says.
Some people have asked if she knows who vandalized the mural, or if she called the police about the incident. The question makes her laugh.
“I was like, ‘What, are you kidding? Isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid here?’ We don’t need cops intervening on these things. Let’s settle it among each other.”
So the mural is more or less back to the way it was, except for a new addition. Franko says she’s “definitely concerned” about the possibility of the piece being defaced again, so she’s left a little piece of herself there to stand guard: a self-portrait silhouette with a can of spray paint.
“My message is that I’m standing right here,” Franko says. “You want to do it again? I’m right here. I’m going to fix it. You don’t get to hijack the message. You don’t get to take away the honor of this man and his family. I’m going to fix it every time.”