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Vandal defaces 'I Can't Breathe' artwork; artist takes action

Quick-thinking witnesses help police identify a suspect


Last updated 7/22/2020 at 2:37pm

Brian Soergel

Christabel Jamison with her temporary art installation on the Sixth Avenue North fence after it was repaired.

The artist who created the "I Can't Breathe" art installation in Edmonds quickly repaired it Tuesday, July 14, after a vandal defaced it earlier in the day.

"I've heard some people were upset by the installation," said 18-year-old Christabel Jamison. "I was shocked that someone would actually take it that far to vandalize it."

According to Edmonds Police Detective Julie Govantes, at 1:46 p.m. Tuesday two witnesses reported they saw an older white male vandalizing the artwork on Sixth Avenue North.

The witnesses provided police with the suspect's vehicle license plate. Officers responded to the registered owner's address in Edmonds to follow up.

Charges will be filed with the prosecutor.

Jamison repaired her piece after the "t" in "Can't" was hit with black spray paint. Community members joined her in a show of unity.

"(The vandals) were actually trying to make it read 'I Can Breathe,' which I find pretty offensive," said Jamison on Tuesday afternoon.

"I Can't Breathe" were the words spoken by Eric Garner in 2014 and, more recently, George Floyd. Both Black men were killed by police.

Jamison said she found out her work had been defaced after a friend messaged her. Cultural Services Manager Frances Chapin, who Jamison worked with to get her artwork approved, also let her know.

The "On the Fence" temporary art installation is sponsored by the Edmonds Arts Commission.

Rep. Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds), a friend of the Jamisons, was among those who helped repair the artwork, which is composed of individual pieces of privacy tape made for chain-link fences.

"I moved it all around to make it look like it did before," Jamison said, "but you can tell that someone's tampered with it."

The Jamisons, Peterson, and others fixed it by flipping over the individual pieces woven into the fence, located on Sixth Avenue North across from the Edmonds Police Department, one of several spots where the temporary installations are regularly rotated.

In her artist notes, Jamison – who is of African-American and Norwegian ancestry – said she is passionate about Black Lives Matter and wanted to increase visibility of the movement in Edmonds.

She says her goal is to "convey the message that Edmonds is with the Black community in their fight for justice."

"I wanted (the police) to see it every day, and kind of remind them," she said. "It wasn't meant to disrespect them, just to relate to the Black Lives Matter movement and what our Black community is facing. Basically, that is what I was trying to convey."

Jamison said her father, Jaime, was glad to see her piece back to somewhat normal. He was on hand when his daughter patched it up.

"He just returned from a one-year deployment in the Middle East with the Army Reserves and just came back on July 4," she said. "It was a surprise. It was really nice to have him come home. He came down and just wanted to watch over everything. He's pretty protective, of course. Just making sure everything was OK."

Jamison recently graduated from Edmonds-Woodway High School. She plans to attend the University of Hawaii to study nursing.

Jamison's installation incorporates the colors of the African American flag, created in 1990 by David Hammon. It has the black, red, and green colors of the Pan-African flag with the pattern of the U.S. flag to represent African American identity.

Brian Soergel

Christabel Jamison's artwork, seen here before it as vandalized, was approved by the Edmonds Art Commission.

Jamison said she appreciates Acting Police Chief Jim Lawless's public comments on her artwork, which he made before it was vandalized.

From Lawless: "I have been asked on several occasions over the past few days if I have a statement regarding the current 'On the Fence' art project that is exhibited on the west fence at Civic Field.

"Now, more than ever, is a time to listen and to have open conversations. Though I have not yet met her personally, in reading her submission to the Arts Commission, I believe Ms. Jamison to be a very intelligent, articulate, and brave young woman who is sharing her perspective and feelings.

"Her message is a powerful and important reminder to us that no matter how much support we continue to receive from the community, the earning and maintaining of support is an ongoing process, and there is always room for improvement."


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