A Detroit Artist Was Commissioned by the City to Paint a Mural—Then Police Arrested Him

Sheefy McFly working on a mural in Detroit
Screenshot: WDIV TV

Detroit artist Sheefy McFly has been making a name for himself, so much so that the city recently commissioned him to paint a series of murals honoring the Motor City as part of its City Walls initiative. But on Wednesday, as McFly was working on the piece, he was confronted by Detroit police, who thought McFly was vandalizing a viaduct.

McFly—born Tashif Turner—tried to explain that he was hired by the city to do the mural. But since he didn’t have his city-issued permit in hand, police arrested him, reports the Detroit Free Press.

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The artist was arrested for resisting and obstructing police, according to Detroit Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood. During the confrontation, McFly was also found to have a 10-year-old outstanding traffic warrant.

McFly spoke to the Free Press about the experience:

As McFly tried to explain the situation to the police, he said more officers arrived with “four or five police cars” on site. And even as a city official showed up to vouch for the artist and spoke with a DPD supervisor, McFly said the situation escalated.

...McFly said when he walked away to check his bag for his permit, officers tried to detain him, with one of the officers putting her hand on his neck.

“They treated me like a felon even though I was commissioned by the city to do this,” said McFly, who added that he felt “depressed” after being arrested for the first time.

“I felt threatened for my life,” said McFly. “I felt like if I really didn’t keep my composure, they would’ve beat my (expletive).”

According to the Detroit Metro Times, McFly had already shown his paperwork once before to Detroit police, on the first day he began the mural.

McFly ended up spending a night in jail, where he says he slept on a mat on the floor of an unclean cell.

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“It felt like animals in a cage,” he said.

The city is chalking up the arrest to a miscommunication between city officials and police.

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“When we’re doing murals, we have a police lieutenant we work with to make sure surrounding precincts are aware that it’s a city-sponsored program and the artists have permits,” said Brad Dick, who oversees the City Walls program. “Unfortunately, some random officers who weren’t associated with the nearby precincts drove by and saw him and thought it was an unauthorized action. They stopped him and he didn’t have his permit with him.”

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City Walls is intended to be a deterrent to vandalism: The idea is that commissioned artists beautifying Detroit with government-approved artwork can help drive down illegal graffiti. McFly, who is is also a musician, was working on his first mural of 10 contracted by the city. He’s one of 25 artists selected as part of the multi-year project.

The mural he was working on before police arrested him was “an homage to local pop culture featuring Cartier glasses and a quote from the late Detroit rapper Blade Icewood,” according to the Free Press.

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“It’s crazy to be painting something for the city and get arrested for it,” McFly told radio station WWJ following the arrest. “If the police didn’t know me then, they know me now.”

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Police dropped the charges against McFly on Thursday, though he still has to appear in court on July 3 on the traffic charge.

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Anne Branigin

Staff writer, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?