Guerrilla mural in Overtown pays tribute to police shooting victims

Mark March 22 as the moment the world started paying attention to Miami's disastrous police department. That's when an ex-Miami Herald reporter named Don Van Natta Jr. parachuted in to write a New York Times piece telling millions of readers what everyone in black Miami knows too well: Miami PD has a shooting problem.

Van Natta's story exploded, resulting in cable news and NPR interviews with women such as Sheila McNeil, whose son Travis was one of the seven young black men shot and killed by Miami cops since last summer. The national spotlight peaked last Thursday evening, when TV cameras packed Miami City Hall as McNeil and others tearfully petitioned the city commission to sack Chief Miguel Exposito.

But a far less noticed — and surely far more permanent — testament to the strife in urban Miami was unveiled hours before Van Natta's piece hit the World Wide Web.

It's painted on the wall of a gritty market on a side street in Overtown: a sprawling mural dedicated to the seven men killed by police. The victims' names frame a huge portrait of a grinning Travis McNeil and the words one love over his shoulders.

Sheila McNeil lives just three blocks away, on the ground floor of an ill-painted but clean three-story apartment building. She waters a tray of plants in plastic pots and cries as she talks about the mural.

"Travis's friends and family just didn't want him to be forgotten so quickly," she says. "So his friends got some money together for paint and then hooked up with some Wynwood artists."

In fact, they connected with some of the best muralists on Wynwood's booming street art scene: the TCP and VCR crews, including noted guerrilla artists Cynic, Cide, Floe Joe, Crunk, and Stab.

The final work stands amid the less politically minded art that dots warehouse walls around the neighborhood. And its message is as clear to residents like McNeil as it is to the Miami cops who patrol the area's blocks.

"This can't go on," McNeil says. "I hope everyone who sees the painting remembers that."

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink

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