Georgia mural calls for end to citizens arrest law

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Roderrick Davis has painted murals before, but the one gracing the south-facing side of an old car wash on Altama Avenue represents two firsts for the Brunswick artist.

“I’ve never tried to put together a design and put it up in one week,” Davis said. “It was definitely new.”

A self-taught painter, Davis moved from Miami to Brunswick at the age of 10. He has since adopted Brunswick as his second hometown.

“I practically grew up in Brunswick,” Davis said. “It’s where I discovered my love for art.”

In June, Fair Fight Action, an Atlanta-based voter advocacy group, contacted him and gave him a week to come up with the Altama Avenue mural’s design. Typically he’d want around two to three weeks for a mural that size, Davis explained.

First, he’d spend a week brainstorming.

“What’s going to resonate with the people? What’s going to resonate with the time? To me, murals are a timestamp,” Davis said.

After that would come the preparation, acquiring supplies and “gridding out” the mural — separating the whole piece out into a grid for easier painting by hand. Actually putting paint to wall wouldn’t take longer than a day or two, he said.

The group wanted the mural finished by the Fourth of July, though, which left little room for his usual process and meant he had to paint it freehand, a challenge when painting on a large surface.

“You put one eye here, the other here and you hope the nose is in the fight place, you know,” Davis said.

This was also his first time painting a mural with an explicit message, which turned a challenge into something exciting and meaningful.

“I think it was the adrenaline too, thinking ‘we’re making history now’ with these murals going up across Georgia,” Davis said.

The brand new piece at the intersection of Altama Avenue and R Street in Brunswick depicts the phrases “Black Futures Matter” and “End Citizens Arrest” framing a mask-wearing child with fist raised.

“That’s what the average protest looks like right now. That’s our everyday lives,” Davis said.

Audrey Gibbons, a local Fair Fight organizer, said the mural was strategically located as well — in the neighborhood where the paternal side of Arbery’s family was raised.

The mural was commissioned by Fair Fight, which was founded by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in 2018 following her failed bid for governor.

Fair Fight Action’s website says the organization is devoted to “(bringing) awareness to the public on election reform, advocates for election reform at all levels, and engages in other voter education programs and communications.”

Gibbons said the Altama Avenue mural is part of a statewide initiative. Similar murals have sprung up in other Georgia cities like Americus, Atlanta and Perry.

“We just wanted to let Brunswick know that we are planning, implementing and strategizing our next move and doing it peacefully,” Gibbons said.

Each mural also addresses a particular issue. A pair in Americus call for an end to police brutality and miseducation, and “Black murder” is the subject of another in Atlanta. One in Perry depicts George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis during an arrest.

The matter of citizens arrest is significant in the Brunswick area, Davis said, and is coupled with the “Black Futures Matter” message. Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill cited the state’s citizens arrest law to argue that Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, were justified in fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in February.

Those who want the law repealed already have some support at the state General Assembly. State Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, has expressed his support. Others, like outgoing Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, would prefer to see the law amended with added restrictions on the use of deadly force.

“He was young,” Davis said of Arbery. “He still had a lot of years ahead of him. There’s no telling what potential he had within him if it wasn’t cut short.

“I’m still young. I’ve got a lot of years. I can’t imagine how my family would feel if I was taken from them.”

Both McMichaels and William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed the final seconds of Arbery’s life, were arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in May and have since been charged with several crimes, including felony murder and malice murder.

As far as he knows, Davis said the Altama Avenue piece is probably the first mural with an activist message painted in Brunswick. He hopes his mural and any that follow will assist in their intended purpose of making the city a better place for future generations.

“It’s special,” Davis said. “It means something to me and I think it means something to the city of Brunswick. It’s one of the first of its kind, especially among Black art in Brunswick.”