Detroit Street Artist Arrested While Painting Mural Commissioned by City

“They treated me like a felon even though I was commissioned by the city to do this,” said Sheefy McFly, adding that he felt “racially profiled and bullied.”

One of Sheefy McFly’s murals in Detroit (all photos courtesy of Zachary Meers)

Last Wednesday, June 19, Detroit street artist and musician Tashif Turner (who is better known by his moniker Sheefy McFly) was arrested after painting a mural commissioned by the city as part of its prolonged effort to deter graffiti with sanctioned street art.

“It’s an oxymoron — doing something for the city and being arrested by the city,” McFly told the Detroit Free Press in an interview. “I feel racially profiled and bullied,” he added.

While painting a mural on a viaduct, he was stopped by police, but did not have his city permit at the time. After trying to explain the situation, he says “four or five police cars” were sent to the site. A city official showed up in hopes of alleviating the situation and explaining the misunderstanding, but to no avail.

One of Sheefy McFly’s City Walls murals about Detroit’s history with techno music (courtesy of Zachary Meers)

“They treated me like a felon even though I was commissioned by the city to do this,” said McFly, adding that when he walked away to search for his permit, officers tried to detain him, with one officer grabbing his neck. “I felt threatened for my life,” he said.

Detroit Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood told the Detroit Free Press that McFly was uncooperative, and was arrested for alleged resisting and obstructing police, as well as on an outstanding parking ticket. Kirkwood says that the charge will likely be sent to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office for further review.

McFly says that after the arrest, he spent about 24 hours detained at the Detroit Detention Center in “horrible conditions.” He told the Detroit Free Press that he has a court hearing for the parking ticket warrant on July 3.

The City Walls program, launched in 2017 by the city’s General Services Department, operates with a budget of $200,000 to commission 60 murals by 25 artists, meant to discourage graffiti. McFly had signed a $10,000 contract to paint 10 murals for the program, including the one he was working on the day of his arrest.

“When we have an artist out doing murals, there is a police lieutenant we work with to make sure surrounding precincts are aware that it’s a city-sponsored program and the artists have permits,” Brad Dick, the group executive of infrastructure for the City of Detroit who oversees the program, told Hyperallergic in an email. “Unfortunately, the officers who came across Sheefy McFly weren’t associated with the nearby precincts and mistakenly thought it was an unauthorized action. If he had his permit with him at the time, this situation could have been avoided.”

“Ensuring the safety of the artists is a top priority of the project. We’re maintaining constant contact with city officials, police officers, and residents of the community as the Detroit City Walls project progresses throughout the year,” Dan Armand, chief creative officer of 1xRUN, the managing contractor of the City Walls project, said in a statement sent to Hyperallergic. “We are already working closely with the city to develop new signage at painting sites, badges for staff, and clear identification for the artists to display in order to make the project as smooth and as safe as possible for everybody.”

“This is my entrepreneurship, this is my life,” the artist said about his work in an interview with WXYZ Detroit, saying that he felt racially profiled and dismissed.

McFly told the Detroit Free Press that after the incident, he is unsure if he will move forward with the mural. “I may go back next week, but I need some days to collect myself and figure out how I can be safe,” he said.

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