By Peter Cherry
As family and community members have continued to protest last December’s police murder of Romir Talley, a mural was created in his honor on the side of an unoccupied business in Wilkinsburg. The mural stayed up until last week, only to be painted over after a new owner purchased the property. Activists reclaimed the wall in an action last Saturday, hanging banners and pasting flyers targeting the officials who have covered up his death.
Romir’s mother has called for a fair investigation and for the release of the identity of the officer involved in her son’s shooting death. On August 6, one of those demands was finally answered. Wilkinsburg Council President Pamela Macklin told a crowd of activists at a hearing that Robert Gowans was the officer who shot Romir. Wilkinsburg Chief of Police Ophelia “Cookie” Coleman had apparently placed Gowans on administrative leave on December 23. For months, Mayor Marita Garret and Coleman have since suppressed investigation into the murder, refusing to be transparent with the family in any way.
At a vigil soon after the mural’s destruction, the community demanded people’s justice and for the officer who killed Romir to be arrested. Motioning to the wall where the mural once stood, one organizer asked the crowd, “What did this represent? What were they afraid of?”
An activist with Serve the People – Pittsburgh (STP-PGH) pointed to how the business changeover is sign of increased gentrification of the area. The attorney for the last owner of the building has said that part of the closing agreement for the sale with the new owners was that the mural had to be covered over.
On Saturday, community members, activists, and members of STP-PGH returned to the site of the former mural, scaling to the top of the building to unfurl banners which read “People’s Justice for Romir Talley!” and “The Blood Is On Cookie’s Hands!”
‘Wanted posters’ for the killer cop Robert Gowans, along with a banner that read “[Mayor] Marita Garret protects killer cops” were pasted on to the wall and handed out to passersby and motorists.
The crowd then marched to the Wilkinsburg municipal building, delivering speeches before heading back to the reclaimed wall. On the way back, a community member told the marchers that the Mayor was getting her hair done at a nearby salon, and as the crowd approached the business owners put down the blinds, locked the door, and denied that she was inside the building.
As the action concluded, organizers vowed that they would return and would not stop fighting until Robert Gowans faces the people’s justice.
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