A mural in San Francisco depicting a trans man, a lesbian couple, and a gay Chicano couple was vandalized for a third time last night around 11:30, a San Francisco Police Department spokesman has confirmed to The Advocate. Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.
Someone set fire to a portion of the mural, which had been wheatpasted on a wall at the corner of 24th and Bryant streets in the city's Mission District. The neighborhood's walls host numerous murals throughout the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, though this mural, titled "Por Vida" ("For Life"), was commissioned by La Galería de la Raza for LGBT Pride month. San Francisco's formal Pride festivities ended Sunday.
The mural, designed by out artist Manuel Paul of the gay Chicano group Maricón Collective, was first vandalized with spray paint June 16, then again June 21, after gallery staff and community members reposted the mural. In the first two attacks, vandals used spray paint to cross out the faces of the gay, lesbian, and transgender characters depicted. But in the latest incident, only the male couple's image was defaced — lit on fire by the vandal.
A witness recounted seeing the vandal using some sort of incendiary device and accelerant on the mural late last night, the SFPD spokesman tells The Advocate. That witness was able to put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher, preventing what could have been "very devastating" damage to the building in the densely populated area, the SFPD notes. The police department's Arson Taskforce will be working with investigators who are already pursuing the two previous vandalisms as a hate crime, the spokesman says.
A video camera has been trained on the mural since it was first vandalized, and SFPD is reviewing the surveillance footage, the spokesman says. At press time, SFPD described the suspect as an "unknown male, possibly white or Hispanic, about 5 foot 9 and 150 pounds, wearing a black sweatshirt, black pants, white tennis shoes, white gloves and a black cloth covering the lower half of his face." He was last seen running southbound on Bryant Street.
The police are reviewing surveillance footage in hopes of positively identifying the suspect, in addition to interviewing witnesses and other bystanders who might have seen the man. If police are unable to identify the vandal, they will be releasing surveillance footage to the media to seek the public's assistance, the SFPD spokesman tells The Advocate.
"Galería de la Raza strongly condemns last night’s act of terrorism to try to, yet again, silence Chican@/ Latin@ LGBTQ visibility," said Ani Rivera, Galería's director, in a statement issued Tuesday.
Rivera's statment confirmed that police have suspects on video from the last two incidents, and that gallery staffers are cooperating with SFPD in the ongoing investigation. Galería plans to host a community conversation on Saturday, July 18 to discuss the repeated vandalism.
No one was physically hurt in the fire, the statement confirms. It goes on to say:
"However, the emotional trauma our neighbors and local communities have suffered is unacceptable and we must find ways to heal. The level of anger and hate expressed by the perpetrator(s) has moved beyond the dislike of a piece of art and into endangering the lives of families who live in the building and could have displaced families that have lived in the building for more than 20 years.
"In midst of all the hatred and violence we have experienced, we maintain a strong dedication to Galería de la Raza’s mission to help give voice to all relevant issues within the larger Chican@/Latin@ communities including LGBTQ Latin@’s."
This story is developing. Check back for updates.