Serge Gay Jr. has been a working artist in San Francisco for 16 years, and has more than 12 years of experience as a muralist. In all that time, he’s never seen any of his work defaced the way his in-progress mural, “Never Alone,” has been in recent weeks.
The brightly colored two-story piece takes up most of the northern-facing exterior of the HIV/AIDS hospice and respite care center, Maitri, which also offers pre-and post-operative care for those undergoing gender affirmation surgery.
Over the past few weeks, on four distinct occasions, Gay and others working at the Duboce Triangle nonprofit noticed graffiti markings, some accompanied by profanity, scrawled over the eyes and faces of dogs and Black men and women depicted in the mural. The most recent instance of vandalism was discovered on Sunday.
The mural, which Gay has been working on since the end of January, was commissioned last year to commemorate the 35-year history of Maitri and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Maitri intends to file a police report soon, the nonprofit’s Executive Director Michael Armentrout told The Standard, and has been working with public safety liasion for District 8, David Burke, to communicate with police and come up with strategies to identify the tagger.
The frequent and disturbing nature of the vandalism has led Armentrout to believe that Maitri’s mission—and the prominence of a young Black woman and an elderly Black man, in the foreground among subjects of many other races and ethnicities—is causing the mural to be “targeted.”
“My instincts are it's someone who has issues with Maitri and with the population that we serve,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if these incidents “fall in the category of a hate crime.”
As a Black artist, Gay said he feels personally “targeted” by the repeated defacement of Black figures in his mural. The artist added he’s also been heckled by passersby in recent weeks with remarks like, “Where are the white people?” or “You should paint white people.”
“Little by little, it's kind of like breaking me apart,” Gay said, adding that he wonders if the vandal lives in the neighborhood.
Although Gay has added a protective clear coating to the mural to make it easier to wash the tags off, he worries the mural won’t last long if the vandalism continues.
Armentrout hopes that getting the word out to the community will help stop the mural’s recurring defacement.
Burke, the public safety liaison for District 8, says that those with information can report tips anonymously or on the record to the San Francisco Police Department’s tip line at (415) 575-4444.
Christina Campodonico can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org