Black Cat Alley mural sparks debate

Posted at 7:59 PM, Sep 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-21 21:08:54-04

MILWAUKEE -- Black Cat Alley near Farwell and Kenilworth on Milwaukee's east side has only been open a few days, but already it's attracting heated debate on social media. One image, depicting a black man in a prison uniform, has people debating if it should be up at all.

"A towering figure in orange prison clothes," described Adam Stoner, an art graduate student at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "It was intended as a sharp criticism of mass incarceration and the violence that it does to communities of color," he said.

While to Stoner it's a social criticism, to others it's a brash reminder of a negative view of African-American men and women.

"This is the design that we have for African-American men," said Jeanette Wright-Claus, an artist herself, also has two sons who are both in prison. "It's very hurtful to see this view," she said.

While Wright-Claus disagrees the image Stoner painted so publicly is an appropriate way to address it, she does agree with him there is a problem. On the 2010 U.S. Census, Wisconsin had the highest rate of incarceration for black males. It's in that statistic that Wright-Claus sees the possibility for what she calls an "insensitive" image.

"I'm all for using it as a catalyst to heal, to educate, to make some sort of an impact that would change the design for African-Americans in this city, as well as the nation,' she said.

That's the hope Stoner has for his image. He said he was inspired by time spent working with imprisoned children in Detroit. He said it's a step he might have taken before all the criticism spread across social media, or before the mural went up at all.

"I wish I would have reached out to more community advocates. That would have been a very wise thing for me to do because that's the story," said Stoner. Stoner admits he has not experienced what African-American males go through, nor has he been in prison. He said he knows he's not the right person to tell that story.

Wright-Claus wishes she and others in the African-American community had had the chance to tell the story in Black Cat Alley.

"We should be allowed, afforded the opportunity to tell our own stories," she said.