Murney Inc. Records
A couple of weeks ago, Halifax Magazine ran a story by Philip Moscovich about the lack of street art in Halifax. Moscovich wondered why there are so few opportunities for graffiti artists in Halifax, unlike other cities whose art attracts tourists.
Well, the answer uncovered in the article is that Halifax put an unhinged, racist cop in charge of policing graffiti who goes around harassing and intimidating businesses and children.
Constable Gerry Murney sees no problem with that. He’s the Halifax Regional Police officer tasked with controlling graffiti. Specifically, what he calls “hip-hop graffiti,” a subject he talks about for two hours. Murney favours strict enforcement and seizing the assets of people who paint illegally.
“Legal graffiti is as intrusive and as bad as illegal graffiti,” he says. “It desensitizes the public to what they’re looking at, and it promotes the person [who painted it].” Cities like Montreal promoting graffiti baffle him. He says he thinks that providing places to paint legally is wrong-headed in that it promotes a culture inextricably tied up with drugs, alcohol, vandalism, and even suicide.
Obviously when you need an expert on “hip hop culture” this guy just clearly is the person you should be consulting:
Not pictured: his “All Lives Matter” shirt and his PhD in Art History.
First of all, Halifax, just remember these are the people so many of you want marching beside you at Pride. This officer sure sounds “inclusive.” I’m pretty sure I’ve heard hip hop during the parade before, actually, so I wonder that the police are promoting such a destructive culture by marching in Pride if these are their views. Doesn’t Pride have a beer tent, by the way? Maybe this constable should be rolling up on the beer garden telling people legal drinking is just as bad as illegal substances because it promotes a culture of alcohol.
Speaking of a culture of alcohol, remember when the off-duty Halifax police officers got drunk at a bar in Digby and beat up the preacher’s son while yelling racial slurs?
“You think about the worst case scenarios…in the majority of those cases the individual would be dismissed. However, when you get into a situation where you’ve got a couple where he’s been drinking and he ends up pushing—we’re talking the lowest level of domestic violence—and that technically is an assault. Does that mean that individual deserves to be fired?”
So when the police aren’t too occupied drinking and pushing women around, they’re busy keeping files on 13 year old children’s instagrams. As Jacob Boon pointed out on Twitter, these are the same police who can’t locate their drug evidence and didn’t do anything with the statistics on racial profiling that they were ordered to keep for over a decade. “Great use of resources, everyone!”
And at least a decade and three internal reports before anyone seriously got around to cleaning up evidence control https://t.co/a36JMc1RMe
— Jacob Boon (@RWJBoon) April 7, 2017
But actually, as the street check data revealed, racism seems to be a really high priority for the police force. Promoting the criminalizing of Black people is pretty much what our force seems dedicated to, exemplified by their refusal to end racial profiling, adopt body cameras, install community-controlled policing boards, fire violent or racist officers, or make an efficient and accountable complaint system. Legal policing is just as bad as illegal policing, one could say — it’s not just police beatings or shootings that are evidence of a racist culture, it’s this kind of open anti-Blackness:
When it comes to judging the acceptability of street art, Murney finds the question pretty simple. “Is it hip-hop graffiti? That’s destructive… We’re not going to promote or empower anybody who is associated with that culture. I hate to make an analogy, but we’re not going to sit around and watch the Hell’s Angels come in and give away Christmas gifts, right? They have ulterior motives.”
Actually, dude, the analogy is more like, say, bikers who aren’t involved in any crime giving away Christmas gifts. You know, maybe like people in motorcycle clubs who are part of biker culture without being a member of a criminal gang? Like maybe Bikers Against Child Abuse?
You know, guys that dress and look like they’re part of a subculture that is popularly associated with being criminal, like the Hell’s Angels, but are actually good people who do charitable work? Like maybe graffiti collectives doing public art projects?
Yeah, it’s not like there’d ever be an event that features maybe something like motorcycles and tattoos that would be supported by the Halifax Regional Police, right?
Oh. So tattoos are cool now but graffiti is inherently criminal?
(Sidenote. This police-sponsored biker charity event name is…unfortunate.)
Funny you should mention the Hell’s Angels, because actually there’s a bunch of white people in Halifax who have called for a return to the Angels to “clean up the streets,” i.e. get rid of Black crime, because white pimps and drug dealers are okay, but Black people are a threat to society.
This past summer, the Gate Keepers club had its status promoted to a Hells Angels prospect club. Not quite a full-fledged Hells Angel Charter, but close.
Suzanne LeCocq moved into her nearby home around the same time the Gate Keepers did.
“They’ve caused no harm, there have been very few parties and it’s usually a family party with a BBQ in the back. They’ve been very respectful as neighbours,” she said.
She said the area is still for the most part quiet at night and people in the area talk about how petty criminals may stay away because of the biker gang.
“Oh it’s the safest place you could live because you’re protected. Because they’re there, right?”
Paging Constable Murney! Maybe you should go pay her a visit and lecture her about drug and alcohol culture.
Backing up for a minute, since when does hip hop “promote suicide” anyway? Is this some fantasy where Murney is playing Classified records backwards and hearing him saying “Kill yourself” or something?
If you reverse this record, I’m pretty sure Class is saying “Constable Murney is an embarrassment to the police force and should be fired if Halifax Police want the Black community to take their outreach efforts seriously.”
And the police are criminalizing suicide now? That’s too bad because the police arguably have disproportionate rates of suicide. According to this CBC article, police suicides are “enhanced”
…[B]y an internal culture that discourages signs of perceived weakness and is further reinforced by a more broad-based social stigma toward those struggling with mental illness…
It’s almost like a police culture that promotes violent and racist masculinity also might promote mental health stigma that leads to lack of treatment for officers struggling with mental illness.
If I worked with Murney, though, I would genuinely be concerned that he seems to be exhibiting signs of mental disturbance and needs intervention:
Murney sometimes visits organizations that hire graffiti artists to do murals. After the Black Book Collective painted the side of the Estabrooks community hall in Hubley for free, he went to the Tantallon home of the organization’s board chair, Lorna Zinck-Gordon and urged her to call a special meeting of the board, which he addressed.
The episode puzzled Zinck-Gordon. “I don’t see any negative impact in our community from Black Book Collective,” she says. “As the owners of the building, we feel it’s a piece of artwork and we will continue having them there to repaint it. We’ve only had two people say they didn’t like it. We think it’s wonderful, and we don’t see any negative impact.”
This officer seems fixated and out of control. It’s like the presence of Blackness in public unbalances him. Does this seem like a stable personality to you? As we find out in the follow-up article, this officer is so obsessed, he tracks and threatens children, part of a pattern of his bizarre interactions with the public that disturb and puzzle people:
In early 2016, Murney requested a meeting with Peterson and her husband [parents of a 13 year old boy interested in graffiti art who posted some Instagram pictures] at their Halifax home. The way Peterson remembers it, Murney had binders with information on all of the people he said made up the city’s “hip-hop graffiti” scene, and a folder on her son, including printouts of his Instagram photos.
“He showed them to us as if they were evidence,” Peterson recall. “We have access to the Instagram account, so I’d seen all these images before. I tried to explain that we were aware of this, we were mindful, and to the best of our understanding, we thought everything that he had done to that point was above-board.”
Peterson says Murney told her that the graffiti scene “was mainly criminals, if not entirely criminals.” She adds, “He was pretty clearly of the opinion that it was not behaviour that we wanted to encourage… I just thought, What are you saying? Is this a visit where you’re giving him a head’s up? A friendly warning? Or is this more serious than that?”
Interesting. Was he accessing children’s Instagram accounts with the police’s unsecured social media passwords by any chance? Maybe they need a guide for interactions with the public as well as a social media policy: “Maybe don’t be creepy and show up at people’s homes for no reason with binders full of children’s artwork.” Jesus, can we expect this guy to be policing our fridges in case our kindergarteners used some inadvertent block lettering that might resemble a tag?
According to the police’s social media guide:
HRP’s voice is professional and our tone is respectful, honest and helpful. Our language and tone should say: We respect you. We’re listening. We’re open. We’re here.
Yes, we’re here, as in Officer Murney is literally outside your door right now with a binder of photos of the time you shaded some 3-D lettering on your Trapper Keeper in a style that looked vaguely “gang-ish.”
If you report graffiti to Crime Stoppers you can get a reward between $50-$2,000. What’s the reward if you report an officer coming to your home, intimidating you, revealing the files he’s keeping on you, and criminalizing entire populations? Isn’t that more of a public safety problem than a tag under a bridge somewhere?
After the original article, Moscovich notes, the police issued a statement which naturally does nothing to address anything Murney claims about hip hop or to denounce his racism.
As a follow up to a recent article about graffiti in Halifax and recognizing there are various approaches to graffiti management, it’s important for us to clarify that the focus for Halifax Regional Police under the municipal Graffiti Abatement Plan is illegal graffiti – writing, drawing or symbols applied to any surface without the permission of the property owner, which constitutes property damage (defined as Mischief under Section 430(1) of the Criminal Code). We encourage people to report these incidents. From time to time, our enforcement efforts related to illegal graffiti may require us to examine commissioned artwork, however, it’s not our focus.
According to this article about Murney from Global News:
Of the graffiti cases, 98 per cent are considered to be hip-hop graffiti. Officers say they see many involved with graffiti also having contact with police for other crimes down the road.
“The whole idea is about concealment and not getting caught,” Murney said. “That’s a skill behaviour that’s really adaptable to go into other types of behaviour.”
He says incidents involving racially themed graffiti account for up to two per cent of cases each year.
Yeah, or maybe because when there’s racist graffiti, it just gets painted over and covered up and there’s no charges laid. Like the time there was racist graffiti in the Killam Library at Dalhousie.
Where someone wrote “Obama is a n*****” in large letters on a hallway wall, the last word of this message has been scribbled out. An annotation has been added, “Graduated from SMU.” At some point “Obama is a Human” was added below, the prefix “sub” was placed before human, and later crossed out.
That same wall space has four large swastikas and the words “I hate homosexuals,” “Burn in hell,” Next to “Keep The F** in the Bag!!” in this area, someone added “or the closet.”
Or when the Dalhousie dentistry students covered their lounge with racist graffiti.
“I don’t think it was that big of a deal. People will get offended by anything,” said a male third-year student. “I guess some of it was kind of bad, but it had been there for so long that it’s like, who cares at this point?”
A second-year female student in the doctor in dental surgery program said she hadn’t seen any graffiti in the lounge this year.
“I think that we obviously all kind of learned from last year,” she said. “I find that they kind of make more of an emphasis on professionalism [this year]. It’s not a tense environment or anything, everyone is comfortable and learning.”
So when racist graffiti and swastikas litter the walls of our universities, it’s no big deal, nobody lays any charges, and you definitely don’t see officer Murney storming around interrogating students, busting into bathrooms to take notes, comparing handwriting, or trying to track down perpetrators. I don’t remember the constable paying a visit to Dalhousie Dentistry and threatening them. Maybe the reason why 98 percent of the graffiti you encounter is “hip hop graffiti” is because people like Murney think that Black people are a problem and racism isn’t?
Was Murney outraged when the picnic tables in Africville got covered with racist graffiti? Or when the “N-word” was spray painted on Garnetta Cromwell’s car when she brought a racial discrimination case against Leon’s?
For that matter, why are confederate flags presumably okay with Murney, but legal graffiti is a public scourge? You don’t see the police going around intimidating people driving around with trucks plastered with racist symbols, but the Black Book Collective is a problem?
But El, maybe you say at this point. Calling people racist is worse than being racist! Murney said he was against hip hop, not against Black people! White people do graffiti too!
As Tricia Rose traces in her essay “Prophets of Rage,” the history of criminalizing, policing, and shutting down hip hip has everything to do with its association with Black youth culture, which is seen as a contaminating influence on white society. As Rose argues:
…[T]here are critical differences between the attacks on black youth expression and white youth expression. The terms of the assault on rap music, for example, are part of a long-standing sociologically based discourse that considers black influences a cultural threat to American society. Consequently, rappers, their fans, and black youth in general are constructed as coconspirators in the spread of black cultural influence. For the antirock organizations, heavy metal is a “threat to the fibre of American society,” but the fans (e.g. “our children,”) are the victims of its influence. Unlike heavy metal victims, are the youngest representatives of a black presence whose cultural difference is perceived as an internal threat to America’s cultural development. They victimize us. These differences in the ideological nature of the sanctions against rap and heavy metal are of critical importance, because they illuminate the ways in which racial discourses deeply inform public transcripts and social control efforts…
…The social construction of “violence,” that is, when and how particular acts are defined as violent, is part of a larger process of labelling social phenomena. Rap-related violence is one facet of the contemporary “urban crisis” that consists of a “rampant drug culture” and “wilding gangs” of Black and Hispanic youths…
As Murney’s actions make clear, Black youth culture must be policed and surveilled primarily because of the risk of it polluting good white families and children. His stated mission is to stop Blackness from spreading, with the implication being that as long as Black people confine ourselves to our own neighbourhoods, it’s not a problem, but if Blackness dares to be present in spaces where white people are — the walls of businesses, public festivals, etc. – then it is a problem that must be attacked and eliminated. White people must be protected from criminal Blackness, and Blackness in this formulation is always criminal. Blackness is imagined as a kind of virus, exposure to which “desensitizes” an unsuspecting public, who therefore become vulnerable to Blackness – presumably in other words, people who look at graffiti might not immediately call the police on an innocent Black person walking in their neighbourhood, desensitized as they are to not seeing Black people as subhuman.
Or, you know, maybe by using the clever euphemism “hip hop” we might not notice his anti-Blackness. The whole idea is “concealment and not getting caught,” you know.
Also? Turns out white kids do more drugs.
Rose’s article, published in 1994, details the police reaction to early rap culture, including shutting down concerts, censorship, intimidating crowds, charging rappers with obscenity, etc.
That this discourse is still being promoted by the Halifax police in 2017, at a time where the city has for years sponsored a hip hop event, including live graffiti artists, should be shocking. But this is the same police force who promote myths of Black-on-black crime, another discredited and outdated discourse, and refuse to end racial profiling practices that have been banned in other cities, so we should hardly be surprised at the rampant anti-Blackness this force indulges and accepts.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of the L.A. uprising in response to the beating of Rodney King. The police repression of the Black community that sparked the “riots” took place in the context of rising poverty and unemployment, the crack epidemic, cutbacks in public expenditures and services, harsh crime bills, rising incarceration, and punitive welfare laws. It is out of this environment that “gangsta rap” evolved, to bear testimony to the condition of Black lives living under state violence.
Blaming rap music or “hip hop culture” for the so-called pathology of Blackness allows the state and its actors to deny responsibility for the policies that disenfranchise and marginalize Black people and communities, strip them of resources, deny opportunity, and then blame Black people for their own poverty.
It is precisely because hip hop has marked a youth resistance to police and state repression, and because hip hop artists have asserted an unapologetic Blackness and what Robin Kelley calls “a battle over the right to occupy public space,” that the police historically have targeted hip hop culture.
“Fuck the Police” remains a defiant articulation of communities tired of being threatened, stopped, checked, fined, charged, and told we don’t have equal right to walk, breathe, live, be. It is precisely because hip hop continues to hold this power of talking back to the police that officers like Murney are unhinged by articulations of Blackness in public space.
This is not about criminal hip hop culture at root, it is about control of Black people, and the white imagination and its fear of Blackness. The unhinged behaviour of Constable Murney in the face of public expressions of Blackness is typical of “white fragility” which reacts with anger, fear, anxiety, guilt, and “defensive moves” when confronted by “race-based stress.” Murney’s racial hysteria, which leads him to fantasies of graffiti artists promoting suicide in public, and propels him to harass business owners and children, is concocted in his fevered imagination that recoils from Blackness in fear and anxiety and thus constructs Black people, Black art, Black music, and Black presence as the problem.
The hypocrisy of officers who complain about murals on housing projects without asking who lives in housing and why they are poor, or who show up in church to sing Black music in the choir but won’t do anything about racist officers targeting Black music and culture, makes clear yet again the disregard for Black people and Black lives promoted by the police.
Maybe once the police start taking racism seriously by not allowing officers like Murney to go around in public freely promoting viciously racist mythologies about criminal Blackness, we might believe them when they come smiling in our face at meetings and community events telling us their police checks aren’t a problem and certainly don’t suggest deeper systemic issues with racism on the force.
— Steve Berry (@SteveBerryCBC) March 19, 2017
If I throw some “hip hop” slang into this article, maybe Murney will come to my house too. Sounds dope.