PALO ALTO, Calif. (KRON) — Five Palo Alto police officers are suing the city, claiming Palo Alto created a hostile working environment with anti-police imagery painted during the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement.
A giant Black Lives Matter mural was painted near City Hall and the police station last summer during a wave of protests for the killing of George Floyd. A controversial face gazed out of the letter “E”: Assata Shakur.
Officers said they felt harassed because they had to pass by Shakur’s face every day going to and from the police station.
The Oakland artist behind the “E,” Cece Carpio, says Shakur is a heroine civil rights leader who was wrongly convicted of murder.
“Assata has always maintained her innocence,” Carpio told KRON4.
The National Police Union asserts that Shakur is a villain. She is on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for fugitive domestic terrorists.
“Assata Shakur was a woman who, in the 70s, shot and killed a police officer, and was convicted of murder. While in prison she escaped and was later discovered to be living on the lam in Cuba. She remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted List,” said Matthew McNicholas, an attorney representing the five police officers.
According to the lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court this summer, the Palo Alto police officers suing the city are Officers Eric Figueroa, Michael Foley, Christopher Moore, Robert Parham and Julie Tannock.
“The lawsuit is not about Black Lives Matter. The lawsuit is simply about the iconography in the last “E” which has Assata Shakur and the contemporary Black Panther movement, both of which are problematic in the workplace,” McNicholas said.
Shakur, who’s legal name is Joanne Chesimard, turned 74-years-old last week. She is believed to still be living in hiding in Cuba.
The city’s spokeswoman could not be reached for comment for this story.
“This was a message that was paid for and sponsored by their employer. If this was simply art in a public space, then there would be no lawsuit. Certain images and icons … are fine as far as public discourse, but not in the employment setting,” McNicholas said.
The Palo Alto Police Officers Union sent two letters to the city asking for the mural to be removed last year, but the city didn’t budge.
The city eventually removed the mural in November, and City Council members said the reasons were over weather and traffic concerns. The city plans to replace the mural with new artwork honoring civil rights leaders.
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