It all started with a resurfaced article. Sydney G. James, native Detroiter and world-renowned artist, stumbled upon a story written about Malice Green. As she read the article, James was taken back to 1992 when she was 13-years-old and Green was murdered.
James says, “I remember the headlines. I remember them trying to paint him like a crackhead or a drug dealer. They villainized the victim.” Even as a young teenager James knew Green’s death and the way the media dehumanized him was wrong.
In 1992, Malice Green was approached leaving “the weed man’s” house on the west side of Detroit by two plain-clothed police officers. After speaking with Green’s family James discovered that the cops that approached Malice had been, she says, “patrolling and harassing” the area for over a decade. She says the community came up with a nickname for the two, Starsky and Hutch in reference to the popular 1970s police TV show.
When Green refused to drop the item clinched between his fingers the beating commenced. They beat Green with a heavy steel flashlight before Green’s battered and bloodied body was swept away to Detroit Receiving Hospital. But by then he was gone and his family awoke to the telephone and screams as they got the news their beloved son, brother, uncle, cousin and friend was killed.
Malice Green became the face of police brutality in Detroit. To honor him, artist Bennie White Jr. painted a shrine to Green at the scene of the crime on West Warren Avenue with black tears streaming from his eyes. James says, “It was painted with such pain and love.”
At the end of the article James found it read that, against the community’s wishes, the building and memorial was destroyed after decades. James says, “That’s when I got inspired.” She said to herself, “I have to do this; I have to paint Malice Green.” Amid a global pandemic, she hadn’t drawn or painted in a month and a half.
James’ supporters felt the same way because in a matter of days she’d nearly doubled her GoFundMe goal of $10,000. James and a team of artists – Bakpak Durden, Ijania Cortez and Cyrah Dardas – they completed the mural in five days.
The mural shows Malice Green as a symbol of “what shouldn’t have happened and what is still going on today,” James says. He’s holding a scroll of the names of Black people who were unjustly killed, and it seems to go on for miles.
Under the shinning hot sun, the team spent hours working through the emotional and physical pain that came with painting this scene. By the third day of painting the wrongfully slain names James yelled up to them: “Hey, are you guys OK?”
She saw tears pool into their eyes. No, they were not OK. At that moment, James shut down production for the day and they sat in the grass and wept. “We cried and we hugged each other, COVID and all – we needed it.”
The “Way Too Many Memorial Monument,” will span the side of the Hamilton Tucker Art Gallery on Hamilton Avenue in Highland Park. James co-owns the space with artists Bre’Ann White and Rayshard Tucker. She says now they will get to control the preservation of the piece.
“It’s a sacred ground. I want people to acknowledge the piece. I know it’s beautiful, but it’s ugly as hell,” James says. “I want people to go up there and read the names. It’s so many names. I want people to take it in.” The official memorial unveiling will happen Friday, June 19 from 3 to 6 p.m. James wants people to show up, lay flowers, read the names, show respect and leave.
16065 Hamilton Ave. #2728, Highland Park
Jasmine Graham is a Detroit-based freelance writer. @_jasminegraham