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Victims Of Police Violence Are Getting Iconic Treatments From This Kansas City Muralist

Sierra’s completed mural of Breonna Taylor. She’s the 26-year-old emergency room technician killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky.
Julie Denesha
One of Chico Sierra's murals at 40th and Troost honors Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency room technician killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky.

A series of powerful murals have been popping up around the metro, depicting victims of police violence in the traditional style of religious icons.

There’s a face taking shape on a wall at 40th and Troost. Kansas City muralist Chico Sierra uses short bursts of spray paint to build the image.

Sierra surrounds the figure with flowers and adds a golden halo behind the man’s head. He’s painting a mural of Ryan Stokes, a 24-year-old Black man who was killed by a Kansas City police officer in the Power & Light District in 2013. Sierra says he wants people to remember Stokes.

“This cop knew why he was chasing this guy," Sierra says. "The cop thought this guy had stolen somebody's phone. And at what point did he decide that was worth shooting him over? Even if he thought this guy had a gun, which he didn’t, like, you're going to have a shoot out over a cell phone? ”

Mural Artist Chico Sierra Paints a Memorial Mural For Ryan Stokes

Mural art has a long history of calling for social and political change.
“I don't know if he realizes how powerful his murals are, but they're very powerful," says Cynthia Hardeman, a Charlotte Street Neighborhood Resident Artist. She runs the Blackbox Theater at 40th and Troost. The building used to be a payday loan store, and now it’s a community space that brings art to the neighborhood. It’s covered in murals, many painted by Sierra. In the past week he’s added two more — one for Ryan Stokes, and the other for Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency room technician killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky.

“He put a crown on her," Hardeman says. "It's simple. It's very small, but people when they go by and they see it, that empowers them. Like yes, this is what we are in the streets protesting for justice for.”

The theater’s been quiet lately, but Hardeman says people in the neighborhood are beginning to take notice.

“We do get people driving through the parking lot," says Hardeman. I've seen a couple people snap photos with the murals. So I think once the city opens up more, they'll have access to it more."

Julie Denesha
Cynthia Hardeman runs the Blackbox Theater at 40th and Troost. Everyone calls it the BOT.

Sierra decided to create the first mural, at 30th and Cherry, after police killed George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. Sierra doesn't think Floyd would have wanted to be a martyr.

"That's the last thing he wanted to do," says Sierra. "But now it's like this thing that's causing change. And I think to sanctify somebody like that, who didn't want that, who just wanted to live, and was sacrificed to the American justice system...”

Sierra says he believes there’s still a chance for real change, but he’s been disappointed by the reaction to the protests.

“There was an opportunity, a brief opportunity, after George Floyd's death for police to be involved in the conversation," Sierra says. "And they just put on armor instead of showing up to have a conversation.”

Julie Denesha
Sierra paints a halo around Stoke’s head. Sierra uses the imagery of saints and martyrs from religious icons .

Sierra says he wants to keep that conversation moving forward. In each of his paintings, he uses the imagery of saints and martyrs from religious icons .

“I want them to be remembered individually, but also as part of the movement," says Sierra. “And then when it's all over and when things have changed, these people are being remembered for who they were as people, and being part of the movement that ended up changing the way we view police and police brutality and race and the sins of this country.”

Hardeman says she thinks more people should follow Sierra’s lead.

“There's a lot of people who feel, 'I really want to do this, but I don't know if I should,'" says Hardeman. "'I don't know if it's my place.' Do it. Somebody is supposed to see it or hear it or read it. Just do it.”

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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