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Body camera footage recorded by the former officers charged in the death of George Floyd was made publicly available on Monday after a Minnesota judge ordered its release. (Aug. 11)
When the video showing former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd stopped circulating on social media, Corinne Basabe decided she would remind people of the “image that made the world rise up.”
That’s why she founded the George Floyd Justice Billboard Committee. Now, Floyd’s death is being depicted above highways in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
Featuring an oil painting by New York City artist Donald Perlis, the billboards also include a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
For Basabe, 58, the painting gives people a sustaining image.
“Because of the way information works these days, things just last for a minute, and we need to give a beat to what happened to George Floyd,” she said.
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When Perlis, who is white, first saw video of Floyd’s death on Memorial Day 2020, he said the image stayed with him in such a powerful way that he began drawing re-creations of it.
Three weeks later, he’d completed a full canvas painting — something that usually takes him six months to a year, he said.
Perlis, 79, said he was thinking of classic religious paintings depicting martyrdom when he painted “FLOYD.”
“The way he was sacrificed for being Black, he was punished for his race. That has a much larger implication than the murder of one man,” Perlis told USA TODAY.
“A man like George Floyd gets killed, and it also affects a lot of people,” he said.
Perlis has been painting artwork centered on racial injustice since the 1980s. Some of his past work depicts Michael Griffith, the Central Park Five, and Eleanor Bumpurs, a Black woman with a history of mental illness who was shot and killed in the Bronx in 1984 when police came to evict her from her apartment.
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The original billboard featuring Perlis’ “FLOYD” went on display in New York City’s Times Square in late October, and the committee received immediate praise.
“I think people got it,” Perlis said.
This month, committee member Nan Quick decided the group needed to place a billboard in Washington, D.C. — and she paid for it herself, $16,000. She hopes “FLOYD” helps reduce ideological tensions by allowing people to consider Floyd’s situation in peace and even silence.
“Looking at a picture forces us to slow down a bit, and actually start thinking about what we’re seeing,” said Quick, 68, a writer and designer. “Words carelessly hurled at those with whom we disagree can be inflammatory. We have to take our time; it can’t be a knee-jerk reaction.”
The billboard went up Jan. 25, less than two miles from the U.S. Capitol Building, and will stay for a month. Billboards in Atlanta and Los Angeles will also be up for a month.
The committee plans to pursue billboards internationally, too, with Basabe pinpointing Paris and London as possibilities.
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The committee had planned a billboard in Minneapolis, and even paid for a location after reaching out to advertising firms Clear Channel Outdoor and Outfront Media last year.
But the Minneapolis deals were scraped by the advertising firms.
Perlis was told the contracts were cancelled because the billboard depicted violence.
Featuring three officers standing over Floyd, Perlis’ painting is just a snapshot of a bigger story, the artist said. One would have to know Minneapolis police killed Floyd for violence to be definitively inferred from his painting, Perlis argued.
“There’s nothing violent about the painting itself,” he said. “The violence is in the people’s minds who are looking at the painting.”
Clear Channel Outdoor and Outfront Media did not respond to requests for comment from USA TODAY.
Follow Claire Thornton on Twitter @claire_thornto.