The murder of Trayvon Martin changed the life of Michael D’Antuono. The New York artist, already shaken by the death of the Skittles-armed teen, experienced an awakening after seeing the shooter cleared of all charges. He expressed his anguish in A Tale of Two Hoodies (image below), which he tried to auction on eBay with 50 percent of the proceeds benefiting the Trayvon Martin Foundation. On the very day that Martin’s killer sold an American flag painting on eBay for $100,000, the online auction site removed D’Antuono’s painting saying it violated their policies. Indeed, the system continued to fuck over Trayvon even in the grave.
The artist-activist is daring eBay to do it again. D’Antuono put his iconic and timely It Stops with Cops (main image) here on eBay at 8:45am this morning, and he plans to donate 75 percent of the proceeds to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and the Equal Justice Initiative. The 44″ x 88″ oil painting depicts a young officer trying to stop another officer from striking a handcuffed black man with his batton. The painting, featured in D’Antuono’s 2016 short film BLACK INjustice AMERICA, originally went viral when the artist provided posters to protesters in New York, Chicago and Baltimore, and went viral again following the death of George Floyd.
PRØHBTD spoke with D’Antuono about the protests, police reform, how conservative media acts off camera, and whether or not the police officers who killed George Floyd might dodge a guilty verdict. As with his art, the native New Yorker didn’t pull any punches.
There’s a growing push to “defund the police.” What does “defund” mean to you?
Before I was an activist artist, I was in advertising. Say whatever you want, but the Republican party is very good at campaigning and marketing. What the Democrats are good at is fair governance. That’s the difference. But the Democrats talk like they want to lose the argument. Global warming should have never been called global warming because you have one snowstorm and the Republicans hold up a snowball as proof that it’s a hoax. The same with Black Lives Matter. If they’d just put Black Lives Matter Too, the Republicans wouldn’t have been able to turn it around on them.
Now, if you want to pick the worst slogan that liberals ever came up with, it would be Defund the Police. As a marketing and advertising guy, it’s so easy to see how to fight that one: “You want total chaos? We need the police.” But the term is misleading. What they mean is to take some funds away from the police and put them into community services. We must have police who are held accountable, who are not above the law, who are not shooting rubber bullets and tear gas into peaceful protesters, who live in the neighborhoods they’re policing… we need to demilitarize the police, but we still need them.
I’m happy with the new legislation trying to stop chokeholds and kneeling on people’s necks — I mean, even professional wrestling has rules so they don’t kill people — so it should be no brainer. [South Carolina Senator] Lindsey Graham doesn’t think there should be a federal law that bans chokeholds. Well, why the hell not? I don’t see how that is a winning argument, but you can’t go too far and say we should literally defund the police. The slogan sucks. It should be Reform the Police, not Defund the Police.
A Tale of Two Hoodies and The Talk are two of your most famous paintings. Can you say a few words about each?
When the Trayvon Martin tragedy happened, it took me out of my comfortable ignorance. I had to ask myself, “Is this country I live in actually racist?” With the cover up and all the other incidents, I figured it out pretty quickly. Yes, there are two different Americas, two sets of justice. One justice and one injustice, depending solely on the color of your skin. It shocked the hell out of me. That’s why I did A Tale of Two Hoodies to show the underlying racism that never went away.
The second painting was maybe three years later, and it’s about empathy. I thought, “What if I had to sit my son down and say, “You can’t go out there wearing a hoodie. You have to have your hands where people can see them. You can’t talk back to the police like your white friends do.” You have to explain to your kids that they’re seen as less, as different, as a danger. Why? Because of the color of their skin. I wouldn’t want to have to explain that to my kid.
You’ve posted photos with Tucker Carlson and Glenn Beck. How would you characterize your conversations with them?
To be fair, they were very nice and charming. They treated me fairly, which was a great surprise, and then I see them on the TV afterwards saying horrible things. It’s like, “Where’s that guy I was just talking to?”
There’s no excuse for Tucker Carlson or Glenn Beck. When I was on Glenn Beck’s show, he even admitted that he’s just trying to get attention to a large degree. I believe both guys will say anything to get people to watch, even if it means causing division and even if they know it’s not true. I told Glenn Beck, “I don’t think you should be able to say things in the news that aren’t true.” He agreed: “Yes, with the news, you have to report the facts, and just that, but I’m entertainment.”
If you did a new version of The Truth that showed Trump on the cross instead of Obama, how do you think the reactions would be different?
I considered doing that on the 10th anniversary of the painting. How would things be different? With the Obama painting, I offended the right because I put a crown of thorns on a black man. The outrage that it sparked was just amazing. I had death threats and everything. Like all bullies, the right can give out criticism, but they can’t take it. I never meant to imply that President Obama was Christ-like, just that he was being crucified by the right, metaphorically.
If I were to do Trump, it would be in great contrast to that, and I don’t think there’d be that much noise on the left at all. The left is not as sensitive about symbolism. They are more concerned with actual actions happening in real life than in a painting.
Do you think Trump’s going to win reelection in November?
He’s going to play the racism card, but I don’t know if it’s going to work for him this time. I’ve been trying to wake up white people since the Trayvon Martin tragedy woke me up. I was equally oblivious in my own little white world that cops are my friends here to help. I started protesting and making paintings and I made that film because I wanted other white people to be aware. Now they are. I mean, look at the crowds. The protesters often seem to be more white than black. They’re finally realizing it. That’s big.
Last week, LeBron James tweeted about the long lines to vote in black neighborhoods and suggested that systemic racism extends to our voting system as well. Do you agree?
We’re focusing on police brutality, and it has to be reformed, but focusing on just that is a mistake. The disadvantages start at the very beginning with education. I also have a painting about the privatization of education because rich white people don’t want to pay taxes to educate the poor and people of color. If there was equal education, there would be equal opportunities, and the crime rate between whites and blacks would be equal, too. There would be no difference.
As far as voting is concerned, yeah. If it were up to me, Election Day would be a national holiday, but the Republicans are basically a bunch of old white people who are used to privilege and don’t want democracy, so they do not want you to vote.
I remember some Republican official in Pennsylvania said, “We did it. We’re suppressing the vote. Trump is going to win here.” He actually said the quiet part out loud and on film. They keep suppressing the vote because they’re losing the majority demographically. The only way they can stay in power is to gerrymander, suppress voting and spread misinformation. Those three tools are a detriment to democracy.
What are the challenges to bringing change after the conservative transformation of the federal judiciary these past few years?
I don’t know, but thank you for entertaining for a second that I might have the answer to that. What concerns me greatly is Ruth Ginsburg’s health. There’s such a barrage of horrible things going on that we forget the Republicans are just using Trump to install generations of right-wing judges who are not remotely qualified. That’s going to outlast everything. How do you undo that? I will say that there’s no law requiring the Supreme Court to have only nine people. If the Democrats get in, they should put more people on there.
What do you think of the police union president in New York complaining that the officers are being treated like animals and thugs?
I didn’t hear that. Who are we treating like animals? The protesters?
No, the police. Here’s the exact quote: “Stop treating us like animals and thugs and start treating us with some respect. We’ve been vilified.”
Ha! I hadn’t heard that one. The hypocrisy to say that. My mother and father told me when I was young, “If you want to get respect, you give respect.”
Will Derek Chauvin receive a guilty verdict?
I think so. Definitely. This is different than before. If they don’t get guilty verdicts, these protests are going to be nothing compared to… I mean, it’s going to be much, much worse, and rightfully so. Don’t you think so?
I’m less confident. You only need one diehard Trump supporter for a hung jury.
When I got kicked off eBay and the right wing media came after me, I got all this attention, and all these people started backing me up wanting to defend what’s right. If the conservative media would have left me alone, you wouldn’t even know who I am. It’s like when Trump tried to double down on clearing the park for his photo op. When he started pepper spraying and shooting into the crowd to dull it down, he lit the fire much, much brighter. That’s what would happen if it’s a hung jury.
My point is, they should take their loss here and say, “Okay, we know the cops are guilty, let’s just take a loss on this one.” Otherwise, if one Trumpy makes it a hung jury, it’s going to be bad for the conservative side, and they’re going to ignite the flames much worse.
It Stops with Cops just went up on eBay. What would it mean if eBay doesn’t censor you this time?
It would be a clear positive sign that corporate attitudes are changing. It means eBay is allowing me and those who bid on my painting to have the opportunity to support the drive against institutional racism.