A graffiti artist hired by the city of Detroit to paint a mural is speaking out after he was arrested by police who suspected him of vandalizing public property — an accusation he believes was based on race.
Sheefy McFly, born Tashif Turner, was taken into custody last week while working on a mural near a viaduct just east of Seven Mile Road, according to the Detroit Metro Times. The city commissioned Turner, 29, as part of the City Walls project, a multi–year initiative aimed at deterring graffiti with public art in areas prone to vandalism.
Launched in 2017, the program also pays artists and provides them with the tools they need to create urban masterpieces. Turner was working on one such piece when he was approached by police on Wednesday, June 19.
The street artist, who’s painted several murals across the city, said he was issued a permit to carry with him while he worked on the mural, but had forgotten it at home on the day in question. By that time, Turner had been working on the piece for a few days and figured local law enforcement had become comfortable with him being there.
That wasn’t the case, however.
“I told them I’m painting this mural for City Walls, and I got to have it done by Friday,” Turner told the Metro Times, recalling the incident. “They asked me to put my hands down and everything. I’m like, what’s going on?”
Turner said he pulled away as one of the officers tried handcuffing him, and walked toward his bag to look for his permit. The incident quickly turned physical.
“They tried to act like I was resisting arrest and trying to run,” he added.
“They ran up on me like I’m dealing dope, bro, like I had crack on me and I had a gun in my bag.”
Police called for backup, and Turner soon found himself in the back of a squad car. He told officers to contact Zachary Meers, a coordinator with City Walls who could verify that he was indeed part of the program.
By the time authorities were able to get Meers on the phone, however, the officers discovered Turner had an arrest warrant for a years-old parking violation and carted him off to jail. He would remain there for the next 24 hours.
The local artist criticized officers’ handling of the incident, saying he felt “threatened” and was treated as if he was a felon.
“I’m a muralist. I’m an artist, like this is my entrepreneurship, and they stopped me for that,” Turner told Detroit’s 7 Action News. “They city is paying me to do this and I’m going to jail for it. It’s an oxymoron.”
Nicole Kirkwood, a spokeswoman for Detroit PD, said officers found Turner to be “uncooperative” and that a disagreement led to him being arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest, obstruction and for the existing warrant. Officers have the discretion of whether to detain someone who has a warrant, however.
Police investigated Turner for “vandalizing” the viaduct, a felony offense that would cost nearly $10,000 to scrub his city-approved artwork.
The local artist is still frustrated over it all and said he feels his race played a role in how he was treated.
“That’s what makes me so angry about it because all my life, I never painted illegally at all. I don’t do nothing bad,” Turner told the Metro Times in an interview. “So for them to come out and treat me like a criminal, like I shot somebody … it just had me feeling like I was profiled, you know.”
Brad Dick, a group executive for Services and Infrastructure for the City of Detroit, told Atlanta black Star that City Walls works with local precincts to ensure police are aware of muralists like Turner and that they have permits to paint.
“Unfortunately, the officers who came across Sheefy McFly weren’t associated with the nearby precincts and mistakenly thought it was an unauthorized action,” Dick said in a statement. “If he had his permit with him at the time, this situation could have been avoided.”
As a result, the Detroit exec said leaders will implement changes to the program in the next few weeks to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again. The changes are to include increased signage near project sites and requiring all artists to wear lanyards that have a signed copy of their permit in them, he said.
Detroit police didn’t return Atlanta Black Star’s request for comment.