Artist says New Jersey town backed out of supporting Black Lives Matter mural

CLIFTON, New Jersey (WABC) -- There is controversy brewing over a Black Lives Matter mural some teenagers painted in New Jersey.

They received permission to paint it on a Garden State Parkway overpass in Clifton but then were told an image was divisive and had to be covered up and redone.

Under the garden state parkway overpass... a mural that honors the community of Clifton.

"Since I was born and raised in Clifton, I know how diverse it is and how inclusive we are, and I just wanted to celebrate," said artist May Yuasa.

Yuasa, 19, had painted another mural with friends two years ago and this summer, while on break from Cornell, she asked the city if she could do another.

The city manager gave the go-ahead for an image of five fists up in the air.

But when Yuasa and her friends painted the first raised fist, problems began.

"I was called into a meeting with the city manager and he asked me to alter the design because he received some complaints and threats," Yuasa said.

May redesigned the remainder of mural, but she left the one fist up -- and then the city painted over it.

"The fist that I painted represents all of us regardless of race or ethnicity, it's to show strength and unity and empowerment," she said.

"I don't see how people could get so threatened or offended by a message that's promoting racial harmony and unity," said Andrea Dubbels who helped to pain the mural.

The city manager did not respond to requests for an interview but the artist says he told her anything politically related doesn't belong there.

However, in the past few days, someone put up posters of raised fists representing Black Lives Matter.

"I feel very supported to know there are people in the community who know what happened and are taking a stance for it," Yuasa said.

And she hopes that at the very least her design sparks dialogue and understanding.

"In this case, we were alerted to the mural by some phone calls from Clifton residents on Tuesday. We sent someone from our maintenance crew out to get pictures. Those pictures were the first we saw of the mural. There was no objectionable content in the pictures. It looked like a lovely mural. But that's not the issue for us. You can't paint on Turnpike or Parkway bridges, no matter what you're painting," said Thomas Feeney, a Turnpike Authority spokesman.

----------
* Get Eyewitness News Delivered
* More New Jersey news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube
Submit a News Tip
Copyright © 2021 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.