Graffiti wall

The graffiti wall, located off Richland Avenue, currently shows a mural memorializing Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Photo by Sarah Donaldson.

When Ava Da Re, a senior at Ohio University studying painting and drawing, saw a picture in a group chat of the graffiti wall on the Athens campus defaced with a swastika Saturday afternoon, she headed to Richland Avenue to cover it up.

But when she arrived at the wall, a fresh layer of black paint already eclipsed the anti-Semitic symbol. Someone had beat her to it.

The graffiti wall currently dons a Black Lives Matter memorial with portraits of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — three black individuals killed in recent weeks whose deaths have sparked demonstrations across the country in response to police brutality.

Da Re said that when this other person covered up the anti-Semitic symbol, however, some drops of black paint ran and also obscured part of George Floyd’s name, painted originally in a shimmering gold.

“It kind of hurt me,” she said in an interview. “It’s unfortunate that in the process of covering up that hatred, the original beauty of this mural and even just the tiny bit of this man’s name, which had been done beautifully in gold spray paint, got even slightly messed up.”

Da Re decided to add her own touch to the mural. She took some of the white paint she brought with her and outlined Floyd’s name.

She also plastered a piece of poster paper on a small part of his portrait with a message for the person who painted the swastika, which reads “These were treasured human lives and you will not distract us from our mourning with your disgusting hatred. Nazi scum aren’t welcome here.”

Da Re, who is spending most days working as an orientation leader with Bobcat Student Orientation, said she hasn’t had much of an opportunity to be an active participant in recent demonstrations.

“I unfortunately don’t get to be out there for the marches, the protests. I don’t have a whole lot of money, so it’s hard for me to spare money to donate to causes and stuff,” she said. “But I’m an artist, I have paint lying around, the very least I can do is go make sure that the integrity of that mural is as those artists originally intended it to be.”

Ohio University spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said Ohio University was also made aware of the anti-Semitic symbol and that the university condemned “antisemitism and all bigotry as a direct contradiction of our values.”

“Although our commitment to freedom of expression means that the university does not shield its community from speech even when it is offensive and disturbing, as in this case, as Bobcats, it is our responsibility to care for and treat each other with compassion and dignity,” Leatherwood wrote in an email statement to The Athens NEWS.

Since the university won’t intervene when it comes to what is painted on the Richland Avenue space, students and community members often take it upon themselves to self-police the wall.

But Da Re, who studied the history of the wall as part of a project for one of her classes, was frustrated by the university’s lack of public condemnation over the weekend of the tagged mural. Ohio University released a full statement Monday afternoon.

“I really appreciate this idea that it is free, it is open, it is to be for the benefit of the campus and its community,” she said. “That being said, I am all for freedom, but you have to step in and you need to show a little more concern when it comes to things that are hateful and violent.”

In the fall of 2017, the university released a statement condemning the painting of swastikas on campus when symbols were discovered in Glidden Hall and on Jeff Hill the day before the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.

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