Pretty much everyone is familiar with the incident revolving around a 46 year-old Black man named George Floyd who, on May 25th, 2020, was confronted and arrested by Minneapolis police over suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. The arresting officer, Derek Chauvin, fastened Floyd’s hands behind his back with handcuffs before forcing him to the ground face-down and pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck while he lay prone, ignoring his pleas that he couldn’t breathe.
Despite the fact that Floyd was clearly in custody and appeared to be cooperating, Chauvin refused to lift his knee, despite the throngs of people nearby pleading for him to do so as Floyd gradually ceased speaking, and then ceased breathing altogether. Some of the last words heard from Floyd by the horrified onlookers were his desperate cries for his mother and that he couldn’t draw air as he lay pinned. By the time paramedics arrived and ordered Chauvin to step back, Floyd was gone.
Months after Floyd’s passing, a local Toledo artist named David Ross decided to create his own tribute. In July of 2020, on the side of the old Mugshots Bar at the corner of Summit and Lagrange streets, Ross and fellow artists Hope (Instagram @hopeartz) and Bamoozie set to work memorializing Floyd’s image into the stone with paint, taking note to incorporate bright, vivid colors which would attract the eye of everyone driving by. Floyd may have been the tragic face of the mural, but as the image took shape over the next few weeks, it began to symbolize all who had fallen to police brutality.
By the time it was finished, it was a sight to behold, spanning the entire wall of the old building and awash in stark colors and a sharply rendered artistic depiction of Floyd’s wizened face. Happy with his work and the message he’d sent, Ross set down his paintbrush. He titled his work ‘Take a Breath’ and stepped back to let his creation do what it was supposed to do, reminding people every day that many people have lost their lives to needless violence by police, and that they won’t be forgotten.
But the intricacies of his work weren’t fated to last, as on the evening of July 13th, a tragedy of a different sort struck. The mural collapsed without warning, sending bricks and mortar crumbling to the sidewalk below. City building inspectors took note of the age and apparent bow of the building. A witness nearby claimed to have spotted lightning rip through the bricks, shattering the carefully assembled image. The community awoke on July 14th to the shock and dismay as the beautiful work of art was rendered to little more than a colorful pile of rubble scattered across the ground.
Given the sheer age and the state of some of the buildings in Toledo, it’s not too difficult to imagine that structural deficiency was the culprit, perhaps in tandem with a freak lightning strike. Many buildings in this city are waiting their turn for much-needed renovation, and perhaps it was just the old Mugshots Bar’s turn to face the music. But some in the city aren’t so sure, especially when Ross recounted several instances of threats and harassment he received while working on the mural. For the thousands who welcomed the sight of it, there were many who hated the idea and made their voices known. The evidence of a lightning strike is inconclusive at best, leaving the true fate of the mural a frustrating guesswork.
While skeptical of the cause and not willing to rule out vandalism, Ross is still upbeat and optimistic about the future for his mural. Undeterred, Ross plans to rebuild the mural at a new location elsewhere in the city, and has started a GoFundMe, citing his renewed passion to redo it because black lives do matter and people like Floyd never deserved to die at the hands of police. Ross also has everything lined up to create a Breonna Taylor mural on Lagrange street, honoring the life of a 26 year-old black EMT worker who was shot to death when police mistakenly invaded her home on May 13th, 2020.
The new mural for Floyd will feature a double rainbow, inspired by the breathtaking atmospheric phenomenon Ross recalls seeing on the day the artwork was destroyed. Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz has declared a desire to work with the Arts Commission to see to the construction of a bigger, better mural so that the message can continue to be spread; the black lives in our community are treasured and deserve as much respect and protection as anyone else. And as with the collapsing of the mural, no amount of adversity will be enough to keep down the voices of those who desire the most to be heard and are willing to carve their voices into the very stone around them.
David Ross GoFundMe