As It Happens

Detroit artist arrested while working on city-commissioned mural

Detroit artist Tashif Turner, a.k.a. Sheefy McFly, wants an apology from police after he was arrested after being suspected of vandalism while he was working on a mural the city commissioned him to complete.

Tashif Turner, a.k.a. Sheefy McFly, was working on a mural project designed to fight illegal graffiti

Detroit artist Tashif Turner, a.k.a. Sheefy McFly, says he was arrested by police who suspected him of vandalism while he was working on a mural commissioned by the city. (Bree Gant/Submitted by Sheefy McFly)
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A Detroit artist wants an apology from police after he was arrested after being suspected of vandalism while he was working on a mural the city commissioned him to complete.

Tashif Turner, a.k.a. Sheefy McFly, was commissioned by the city as part of City Walls, a multi-year effort to fight illegal graffiti with city-approved artwork.

"They treated me more so like a criminal than an artist," he told As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner.

Turner said officers from the local precinct asked him about his work earlier in the week. He showed them his city-issued permit, which they accepted.

Days later when he was nearing the end of his work on the mural, two officers from a different precinct approached him, asking what he was doing. He wasn't holding his permit at the time.

He said the officers expressed doubt at his answers, including his offer to contact a city official to confirm his involvement in the City Walls project.

"Everything that I was saying, they were doubting. And it just felt like they were just trying to demean me," said Turner. 

I wasn't resisting arrest. I'm just trying to speak. I want to be treated like a human and not like a criminal.- Tashif Turner, a.k.a. Sheefy McFly

"I was really trying to be humble and say like, 'I'm just doing the job that the city is sponsoring me for.'"

Turner said one of the officers reached to grab his throat. He said he pushed the officer's hand away and offered to check if his permit was inside his bag.

A mural by Turner, featuring cartoon characters in a style inspired by Keith Haring. (Trevor Dernai/Submitted by Sheefy McFly)

"They made it seem like I was trying to run and that's when they held my arms out to the side, threatened to tase me, put handcuffs on me. They called for backup. Five or 10 more cars came," he said.

"I wasn't resisting arrest. I'm just trying to speak. I want to be treated like a human and not like a criminal."

'Like animals in a cage'

Police spokeswoman Nicole Kirkwood told The Associated Press officers found Turner uncooperative. She says the disagreement led to Turner being arrested on suspicion of resisting and obstructing and on a warrant for an old parking ticket.

Turner was held in a nearby detention centre for 24 hours, in conditions he described to the Detroit Free Press as "horrible."

"We had to sleep on mats. They didn't clean any of the cells," Turner told the Free Press. "It felt like animals in a cage."

Brad Dick, a city official who oversees the City Walls program, told the Free Press Turner's arrest was the result of a miscommunication between the city and police.

"When we're doing murals, we have 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," said Dick.

"Unfortunately, some random officers who weren't associated with the nearby precincts drove by and saw him and thought it was an unauthorized action. They stopped him and he didn't have his permit with him."

Dick said that the program will work to increase signage at project sites, and mandate that artists wear identifying lanyards while on site.

'This will never stop my artwork'

Turner hasn't spoken with anyone from the Detroit PD since he was released from prison on Thursday.

"I just want an apology and just to open this conversation, just to put forth knowledge to know the difference between a muralist and graffiti — you know, like gang graffiti and defamation and property type of graffiti," he said.

Turner, who is black, doesn't want to make the incident a story about race. But he admits his interactions with the police gave him pause.

"Of course we know like, how black men are being killed in America. And yes, I did feel that pressure and it was scary being in that moment. Like ... I could have my life taken in front of my artwork. It would have been horrible," he said.

"I had to keep composure and just, you know, comply. And I felt like that's what the police like to do — they like to make people comply. They like to make it seem like, you know, they're in control of you."

Turner is also a musician and performer. (Sheefy McFly)

Turner has been taking the last few days to rest and recover from the experience.

"I'll never be the same after the incident. Like, I keep thinking of myself [and] what I had to go through just for doing something that the city paid me for," he said.

But he's intent on finishing the mural and getting back on schedule for this and his other ongoing projects.

"This will never stop my artwork."


Written by Jonathan Ore with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Chris Harbord.

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