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Not a gun

We have an opportunity for a webisode to be filmed for us by student filmmakers at the New York Film Academy. It’s a voice that I have been eager to see, the visual world of Off The Wall come to life. Not our Running Off The Wall world, but the actual kid’s world out there in the streets.

The Ukrainian director, (all the film students there are from other countries and have cultural “lost in translation” gaps) wanted to make up scenarios from the imagined streets and we said no. His first concept was to have two kids painting together, have the cops show up, one of the kids gets shot and killed, the other runs to Off The Wall Graffiti to hide. The cops know there is an accomplice who saw them and they bury the story, etc, while the kid hides out with us.


What? Clearly no one seeks asylum with us, from the cops or teachers, yes, they may seek asylum from some forms of ill but not for real. I have turned down unwed pregnant mothers from our door whose own mothers were out of line and tried to kick them out at 17, or threw raw eggs at their feet and told them they were losers. We know that there are people far better equipped for that, but the key message to the girl is that it is not normal or okay or legal for her mother to kick her out… go back and figure it out. That family unit is still in strife but the baby was born fine, the girl hasn’t finished high school and the baby daddy has been sleeping on our couch since April. That’s a type of asylum we will allow – the couch sleeping to get your life in order and be around positive support. That’s not an old model.


But no, don’t run here from the cops or from a gang. NO BEEF over here.


So there’s that, but what we really had to fight him on was the gunshot.

A gunshot to the head of a kid who was doing graffiti is too assumed and on-point for today’s headlines, even though that hasn’t happened in our realm.


Instead we are telling about the 90 lb. boy in Miami who was tased to death at an abandoned McDonald’s for tagging it, in front of his friends who watched from a distance.


Yes, that actually did happen. A cop took out his taser and zapped this kid so much that it literally killed him – DOA – for having a spray can in his hand, spraying his name on the side of an abandoned building in Dade County.


That officer remains for two years now, still on the payroll and on probation. There have been countless rallies in support of the boy, REEFA, Justice for Israel, to have his death be punishable by the courts to the officer. It won’t be. It’s America and cops don’t get taken down. We know this now and it doesn’t matter the circumstance.


And what of the kids who saw him die? We met them four months later in the streets of Miami during Art Basel. They were outside of a graff shop sitting on a picnic bench. I walked up to them to see who they were – knowing they were one of ours in theory. We all started talking and in minutes they were telling me about the dream that two of them were having – they were having the same dream. Apple and Camel were both having that “can’t run away from the cops, feet in mud dream, collecting the terror of not getting away with the knowingness that before this dream they always could get away from the cops” dream. I asked them to consider that the dead do speak to us in our dreams. Apple is part Native American and Camel a mix of beauty that Miami brings from it’s multi-cultural center, I knew they were ready to consider my assertion that these co-dreamt dreams were REEFA speaking to them. And they both knew in an instant it was and I saw it in Apple’s eyes. So having just met them minutes before this, I point to my new best stranger friends and say, “That, right there, what did he say to you?” And Camel said for him, “He said to stop.” “Stop what?” I ask. And Apple says, “He wants us to take it easy. We are about to go real hard about his death and he’s saying don’t.” So I ask, “How do you know?” and they both recount that he was going to stop and had pledged it just a week before his tasing.


They slowed down. They did not heal from slowing down. They still feel the burn of the cop not being held accountable for their loss.


Apple came out to California shortly thereafter and came straight to our house in the Valley. I said he was our new best friend. He stayed for four days and painted his first canvas. He labored over a wolf rising from flames. We mentored him with four artists standing behind him, squinting, suggesting and being with his process. Shortly after that he decided to go meet his father again, an artist living in Santa Fe. They were estranged.

It went well. They painted together. Found a slice of peace. Apple got to meet his stepbrothers and sisters. Feel a part of another community.


Then he traveled back to LA with plans to finish high school here. He didn’t there. He brought a bad girl friend with him who broke up with him. He stayed with his mom a bit in Hermosa Beach. Came up to us and asked for help. Entertained me on my 51st birthday. Skated Venice Beach a lot. Eventually, and I knew this was his route, he went back to Miami. The energy was too thick to not be a part of the cry for justice.


We painted with him that next year. All ten of them doing two huge wall pieces for REEFA. Beautiful work, and collaboration. Paulie and I stayed close to them for four days, all hours of the day and night just to be near. Our last night in town we were with them until 2:30 am, having left with them all the left over paint from another artist, Philippe Mastrocola and Paulie. They were in awe of so much paint.


We had spent a full hour during the time with them on the discussion of ID VS. EGO. I made them redo their final wall. Apparently I am legend for making them do it over. I was serious though. I had them all do REEFA’s name in a style of REEFA and them combined. They had just wanted to do piecework on a wall in his honor. Nope. That is too ego based I said, go outside of your ego and put what you are meant to be up there. Show your friendship through his name and your talent. Show that you knew him like a brother. And they did.

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We don’t always know what we are doing out here in the streets with these kids, but they tell us what they need and we listen, lean in and elevate their assumed answers to a higher delivery for themselves and for all of us.


That year, another boy got killed during Art Basel. He got ran over by a police car and killed. Hit when he was running around a corner to get away from the cops. He was tagging on a mural during the one time a year where 100 artists come to town to paint outside on walls legally. No one had invited him to their Reindeer games, so he set out on his own to belong.


I don’t think he was going for infamy. His name is added to the list. He was 20. He went by DEMZ.