“Know your rights” mural unveiled in Mott Haven


A woman stops to gaze at the new mural on Brook Ave (Rosalind Adams/ The Bronx Ink)

A woman stops to gaze at the new mural on Brook Ave

Bronx residents and activists unveiled a new outdoor mural in Mott Haven on Saturday that aims to build community bonds in response to its growing frustration with police violence.

The ethereal painting in muted shades of browns, blues and greens shows a circle of youth holding cameras surrounding a pair of ominous eyes glaring out towards the corner of 148th Street and Brook Avenue.  Below the scene, a pair of hands embrace.

“Know Your Rights,” as the mural has come to be called, is meant to depict police watching people, and people also watching police, said the artist Raoul Ayala. He collaborated on the concept with three youth groups from the Justice Committee, Streetwise and Safe, and Caav: Organizing Asian Communities.

“One of the main ideas was not just to focus on the problem, but to focus on the community,” said Ayala, who is originally from Ecuador and goes by the name NaNtu. The concept of the mural evolved in response to growing police violence against community members. “We have the power and the means to keep each other safe,” he said.

Nearby resident Pepi Alicea was one of several community members who volunteered over a two-day period to help complete the painting.  “My arm caught a cramp when I was painting one of the cameras,” he said, laughing. Alicea pointed to his contribution on the bottom right corner, where an alligator pulls a trailer that is topped with a ring of surveillance cameras.

But things turned more serious as he discussed police presence in the neighborhood and enumerated a number of recent incidents when cops arrested or fined people on his block.

“People around here aren’t worried about thugs anymore,” said Alicea, now retired. “They’re worried about the cops.”

Spoken word and hip-hop performances punctuated the afternoon celebration. Some evoked frustration with the recent deaths of Staten Island man Eric Garner and Ferguson, Missouri teen Michael Brown, both at the hands of police.

One of the performers, Daniel Sanchez, who also works with Justice Committee, said he got involved with the organization three years ago to create solutions. “Just being the guy on the microphone isn’t enough for me,” said Sanchez, who uses the stage name “Majesty.”

Now, he is a Bronx coordinator for the Cop Watch program that documents police harassment around New York City.

“It very much feels like we’re in an occupied zone,” he said, describing police tactics he witnesses. “Essentially they just bait people in the community.”

Daniel "Majesty" Sanchez performs at the mural unveiling on Saturday.

Daniel “Majesty” Sanchez performs at the mural unveiling on Saturday. (ROSALIND ADAMS/The Bronx Ink)


Police from the nearby 40th precinct cruised by the block party, but the scene remained calm.

At one point a call and response began: “Our neighborhoods are under attack what do we do?”

“Stand up, fight back,” responded the crowd, with raised fists to the air.

Like Ayala, Sanchez emphasized the hope that the artwork would inspire community building.

“The mural brings awareness to the community and gives them a voice,” said Marilyn Scales, who works with with VOCAL-NY and leads “Know Your Rights” trainings around New York City. “It’s a way to reach out to people and let them know they have power.”


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