New mural symbolizes an old struggle for community activists

OW Staff Writer | 12/15/2010, 5 p.m.

The ideas of scholars, activists, neighborhood youth and others, along with graffiti-based designs of artist Man One, blended together to create an imposing new mural at the Southern California Library. Titled "They Claim I'm a Criminal," the mural highlights the achievements of two community organizations, Mothers Reclaiming Our Children (Mothers ROC or MROC) and the Coalition Against Police Abuse (CAPA).

According to its web site, the "library holds collections that span the breadth of social and political movements in Los Angeles," including labor, civil rights, education, housing, immigration, war and peace and civil liberties. The collections comprise more than 400 manuscripts, as well as books, periodicals, subject files, pamphlets, posters, photographs, films, audiotapes. Also included are the documents of the groups featured in the mural.

The library is located at 6120 S. Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles.

Man One, who began as a tagger in 1987 but went on to earn a fine arts degree from Loyola Marymount University and, reportedly "helped to change the way the world interpreted graffiti and urban art," is founder and director of Crewest, a street/underground art gallery in downtown's Gallery Row district and "the only L.A.-based gallery dedicated to the upliftment of graffiti art."

Among the speakers at the dedication on Friday, Dec. 10, were Geri Silva, director of Families to Amend California's Three Strikes (FACTS), and Bilal Ali, a founding member of Mothers ROC and now a community organizer for Coalition L.A. who worked formerly with CAPA.

Formed in 1992 but no longer active, Mothers ROC was an effort to reclaim the increasing numbers of youths being shuffled through the state's criminal justice system. The mothers and others burdened with supporting imprisoned loved ones found aid and assistance through the organization.

"While Black women's participation and leadership formed the core of MROC, women and men of all backgrounds also joined the group, "united in the purpose to free loved ones who were imprisoned throughout California," according to a statement by the organization.

Among its demands were an "immediate end to the War on Drugs; the repeal of the 'three strikes' law; more funding for public defenders; an end to mandatory minimum sentencing laws; and an end to racial profiling, warrant-less searches, and other issues.

Former Black Panther and community organizer Zinzun, who died in 2006, was co-founder of CAPA and another organization, the Community in Support of the Gang Truce. CAPA was formed in 1976 "in response to a wave of police shootings, beatings, and harassment" and "provided counseling and support for victims of police crime, going so far as to keep files and to document police abuse. Zinzun and CAPA also led several voter initiatives to establish a police civilian review board.

The Southern California Library is open to all. For more information, go to www.socallib.org or call (323) 759-6063.