Graffiti letters in a bold, neon fashion cut across the brick wall screaming “Know Your Rights” at the bystanders. Near the words are illustrations, each depicting its own stories and creating a mural worth more than a thousand words. It expresses an unfortunate lifestyle and is called the “Know Your Rights” mural.
There are six “Know Your Rights” murals, placed in four of the five boroughs of New York City: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. Due to the great number of cops residing in Staten Island, creators of the murals decided against creating a mural in that borough.
The creators of each mural include the Peoples’ Justice for Community Control and Police Accountability (PJ), Picture the Homeless (PTH), and a local artist.
Placed in poorer streets where there is an abundance of police misconduct, the murals were all made with little phrases in hopes to educate the community on their rights and how to fight white supremacy and police intimidation.
In the cross section between Barretto Street and Garrison Avenue lies a mural completed by Dasic Fernández in 2012.
Illustrations scattered along the mural show a man recording a policeman with a look of pure malice, dressed in common clothes and , pinning an African American male down onto the hood of a car.
Statements such as, “If you are detained or arrested by the police…” and “You have the right to…” line the illustrations, informing passing pedestrians on how to deal with police brutality.
On Irving Avenue and Gates Avenue, a common ground for murals, lies one of the “Know Your Rights” murals in Brooklyn, created with the help of Dasic Fernández.
This mural was painted in 2011 with a collection of phrases that promotes the importance of recording unjust police activity and watching pre-recorded videos to familiarize with issues such as police brutality that we are facing today.
With a close up of a girl’s face and the phrase “Watch out. Keep your eyes open” and a man recording an act of police brutality behind her, it is clear what kind of message the mural aimed to get across — everyone needs to be aware when police are being unjust and keep it on a record as evidence.
The second “Know Your Rights” mural of Brooklyn is in a rather sophisticated community, Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The debut of Bed-Stuy relayed off of the film, Do the Right Thing, in which the main character, Radio Raheem, died from police brutality. During the scene of his death in the movie, there is a riot and Raheem is shaking vigorously, trying to get out of the policemen’s grip.
The mural informs viewers not to act as fierce as Raheem and ensures that violence is not the answer by saying, “Stay calm and in control, don’t get into an argument… Don’t resist even if you believe you’re innocent.”
In the mural, Raheem is the man holding up his fist with “LOVE” blazoned on it.
In the Hispanic community of Washington Heights, police are intertwined with mistrust and fear. With a history of constant, unnecessary stop-and-frisk attacks made by the police in Washington Heights, it was apparent that a “Know Your Rights” mural was needed.
With the help of Nelson Rivas, the PJ and PTH were able to create the “Know Your Rights” mural of Washington Heights in 2009 on Wadsworth Avenue and 174 Street.
The mural features a variety of phrases, some in Spanish and some in English.
On the corner of 138 Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, next to the Harlem Nights Bar and a sidewalk hot dog stand, is another one of the “Know Your Rights” murals of Manhattan.
Harlem is a community known to be the home of African American families, which makes the influence of the “Know Your Rights” mural much more powerful.
The mural featured Sophia “I Am Wet Paint” Dawson as the local artist.
One of the phrases states, “You don’t have to answer any questions from the police. When they approach, say ‘Am I being detained, or am I free to go?’ If they detain you, stay silent and demand a lawyer.”
Like the above quote, the mural is flooded with other phrases that target stop-and-frisk policing, which prompts unfair treatment to young men of color.
After the completion of the mural in 2013, the mural brought attention to stop-and-frisk policing, and eventually led to a judge declaring it as unconstitutional. Since then, crime has decreased, proving how influential Dawson’s mural was to the African American race.
In 2012, another “Know Your Rights” mural was completed by Dasic Fernández in Long Island City on the corner of 35 Avenue and 12 Street.
Unlike the other murals in its series, this one consisted only of word, some bold, some not, and a simple background. Half of the words were in English and the other half in Spanish. The English words tell viewers what to do when harassed by the police, the Spanish words tell the viewers that police officers need consent before completing a check-up.
The Spanish words in the image below translate to: “You do not need to agree to a checkup of yourself, your car, or your home. Do not physically stop the police, say that you do not give permission for the check.”
Despite their different styles and locations, the collection of “Know Your Rights” murals express one common theme: Everyone deserves to know what to do when they cross paths with police brutality, and to help themselves or others.