The Death of Michael Stewart

This piece takes large inspiration from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Defacement” (below) and likewise serves to memorialize the death of Michael Stewart who was brutally killed by New York city cops for writing graffiti.

Jean-Michel Basquiat — Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) 1983

Colors spilled themselves on the wall. Across the wall rivers flew and streams dripped down to fill the gaps. Cans rattled as he poured himself over the wall — filling the mortar with flashes of light. His fingers were stained with the blood of blackberries, his palms sticky, and swirling around him was the pungent smell of boiling summer swimming pools and the cabinet under the bathroom sink. He took a step back, turning his head from corner to corner, planning the choreography of colors as they twirled and rocked inside him, swelling up, and bursting all over the cold white tiles. Passing him, were a hundred unfinished wayward symphonies swept out of begrimed classrooms and onto an express train bound for nowhere. His pen squeaked an off-center R, a Q with a circle that had a start and an end — and an S interrupted by black-blue coats and ticonderoga brown batons, rattling every one of his ribs. Just as he sprawled himself onto the wall, they sprawled him onto the cold dusty concrete, with screams and cackles. The regimented stream flowed past him; the trains did not pause for a moment; Oxfords skipped, shuffled, then set, taking no minutes to glance at M̶̵̶i̶̵̶c̶̵̶h̶̵̶a̶̵̶e̶̵̶l̶̵̶ ̶̵̶J̶̵̶e̶̵̶r̶̵̶o̶̵̶m̶̵̶e̶̵̶ ̶̵̶S̶̵̶t̶̵̶e̶̵̶w̶̵̶a̶̵̶r̶̵̶t̶̵̶, eyes darting away. Through windows fives stories up they heard him wail,

“Oh my God, someone help me” and “What did I do? What did I do?”

The officers towered over his 1̶3̶5̶-̶p̶o̶u̶n̶d body, his black shirt yanked up to his armpits, and his face bludgeoned — turned blue. A fractured rainbow; colors on the wall becoming colors on the unforgiving pavement. Here he was, ̶i̶n̶ ̶1̶9̶8̶3̶, in his pocket, a wallet that had a bank note, folded with crisp Rexine and carefully worn pieces of paper colored with ambition — cut short and strangled on the marble floor.

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