Community members restore defaced ‘I Can’t Breathe’ artwork in Edmonds

The “I Can’t Breathe” art installation on the fence at Edmonds’ Civic Park, defaced with black spray paint, was restored Tuesday afternoon thanks to the quick work of community members.

The art was installed last week as part of the city’s On the Fence temporary artwork program. It was completed by lifelong Edmonds resident and Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate Christabel Jamison. She said her goal was to support conversation in Edmonds about the Black Lives Matter movement. Her installation incorporates the colors of the African American flag, a symbol of love and unity, and the phrase in red vinyl letters “I Can’t Breathe,” which she sees as “a cry for justice of the Black community.”

One of those helping with the restoration late Tuesday afternoon was Liz Morgan, who saw a post on Facebook announcing that someone had sprayed black paint on the letter T in the artwork so that it was no longer visible. Morgan said she immediately went to scene, determined to remove the paint.

“While I was there alone and scrubbing the paint, Emma (Van Tassell) stopped in a car and asked what I was doing,” Morgan recounted. “She knows the artist and was worried I was defacing the T. I explained I was trying to clean the paint off.”

Van Tassell returned five minutes later with cleaning products and started helping. Fifteen minutes after that, the two were joined by Emily Paynich and her daughter Cheryl.

According to Morgan, the four were having a hard time getting the paint off, and at that point “switched gears,” removing the strips of painted vinyl and flipping them so the red showed again.

The artwork defacement was roundly criticized by Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson and members of the city council during the Tuesday night council meeting. Nelson called it “a hateful, criminal act,” and said that the police department has “identified and contacted a potential suspect” in the crime. Nelson said he also asked the city’s parks department to extend the time of the artwork display “for as long as is needed.”

In addition, Nelson said he met personally with Christabel Jamison Tuesday afternoon, and “I apologized on behalf of our city.”

“The crying for justice for the Black community…will not be silenced in Edmonds,” Nelson said. “It’s going to be amplified.”



6 Replies to “Community members restore defaced ‘I Can’t Breathe’ artwork in Edmonds”

  1. Thanks for doing good., Liz, and thanks also to a mayor who says this won’t be silenced. The people that deface the work are scared, not powerful. I’m so glad to see BLACK LIVES MATTER people demonstrating in Edmonds. Thank you from those who aren’t able to do it with you.


    1. The city is now going to charge a 70 year old man for a hate crime for changing a painted sign from ” I can’t breathe, ” to ” I can Breathe.” How about we focus on all the destruction that was done in the Capital Hill area. Hate crimes toward the Seattle police department, business owners, arson, vandalism, and the killings. Americans have a way of going from one extreme to another. A crime that happened in Minneapolis, we are paying a price here? It is time to consider what the city of Edmonds is doing to push people to a point where they were once warm and caring, to where they now really do not care to say hello to a passing Black African American. What a shame.


      1. Carl, what on earth would some random passersby in our community – who just happens to be Black – have done to warrant that sort of broad, dismissive attitude? There are people of every race/colour participating in the current conversation about the state of race relations in this country, so what about the rest of them? Still waving “hi” to them, are you?

        This is a conversation that everyone has to take part in – and it is a conversation that should have taken place a long time ago – for everyone’s sake. So why are you putting it on all Black people, as if somehow this conversation is “their fault”? Your attitude, buried deep within the core of your message, only convinces me that this conversation is a long way from being over ..


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