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'It exposes you' | Norfolk artists restore vandalized 'Say Their Names' mural in Neon District

The artists originally finished the mural in the fall of 2020.

NORFOLK, Va. — Around 10 p.m. on a Thursday night, Norfolk artist Will Payne stood on the corner of Olney Road and Magazine Lane with a paintbrush and paint cans, putting in overtime.

“Felt a couple emotions at once, anger, pissed off because of the time we put into it," Payne said, standing next to a mural he painted almost a year ago. 

Last October with the help of his artist friend Alan, Will was commissioned to paint a "Say Their Names" mural on the side of the Virginia Furniture Company building by the Downtown Norfolk Council. 

This weekend, Will received texts and pictures from people passing by showing that the mural had been vandalized, and painted over with white paint. 

“I’m a direct person: it’s basically racism. Do you think if it wasn’t a huge black man dawning an American flag across his shoulders it would’ve been vandalized," Payne asked. "Let’s be real now.”

The mural originally displayed the names of African Americans who'd lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement, including Breonna Taylor and more. 

The white paint defacing the mural covers both the names written as well as the lettering of "Say Their Names." It also covered portions of the mural subject's neck and hands. 

“[They] made a point to erase the victims, who are African American and wipe their names out, and wipe out the black man’s head and hands to make sure there was no indication of his race," Payne said. 

The blue stenciling of a white nationalist hate group can be seen throughout the mural as well. 

“They use symbols of patriotism and liberty as a means of their ideals, which is white supremacy. It goes against the claims of what they're trying to accomplish," Payne said. 

Now, Will and his friend Alan are currently restoring and touching up the mural, ultimately thankful the mural can be salvaged. 

It'll take a couple of days they said, but it's nothing fresh paint and brushes can’t fix. Now, they're implementing an anti-graffiti sealant on the outside of their fixes, to make sure it can't be vandalized again. 

“To me the whole thing is ironic, the mural stands for, and what they’re saying they stand for," Payne said. 

Following the vandalism, Rachel McCall, Director of Strategic Initiatives with DNC, issued the following statement to 13News Now:

The Downtown Norfolk Council is incredibly disappointed the mural was vandalized but are grateful for Norfolk Police Department’s swift attention to the matter. Working with the artist and property owners, the NEON District will have the mural repaired and not give in to hate crimes like these.

Editors note: The video below is on file from July 12, 2021