It all started about a month ago when artist Jonathan Cohen, aka Meres One, was informed his Sean Price mural in Crown Heights was in jeopardy.
On the morning of July 8, Cohen's wife, art curator Marie Cecile Flageul, had noticed two men painting over a portion of a wall that was next to the tribute mural, which Cohen completed just days after Price's death in 2015. Flageul told the New York Times she and her husband immediately approached the workmen and demanded they stop; however, the men told the couple "they were taking orders from the restaurant owner across the street."
Several days later, Price's widow, Bernadette Price, shared a Facebook message that brought more attention to the incident:
"So apparently a owner across Kingston ave wants to paint over Sean’s Mural," Bernadette wrote in a since-deleted post. "The Artist who painted it caught the other painter painting over the other painting that’s next to sean’s. He stated the he was told to paint over it claiming that it’s a disturbing the attention next to his restaurant which is ACROSS the street. This can’t happen."
It didn't take too long for the situation to escalate.
"If that mural goes down, the restaurant gonna go down next," one person commented on the post, along with flame emojis.
The restaurant in question was a kosher steakhouse called Meat, located on Kingston Avenue off Bergen Street. The eatery was owned by Basil Hospitality Group, headed by Danny Branover.
On July 12, Twitter user @bigmeech8ball posted a screenshot of a direct message in which the restaurant denied having anything to do with the whitewashing.
"The building you are referring to has nothing to do with us. We do not own the building and do not paint over other people’s buildings. We are extremely disturbed by the evil rumors that are nothing but slander."
The fate of the Price mural had stirred racial tensions and fueled concerns about gentrification, so much so that community leaders organized a meeting to discuss the situation.
Per the Times:
TENSIONS WERE HIGH at the July 23 meeting. As the politicians in the room scrambled to referee comments, a cacophony of grievances, finger-pointing and accusations brought the meeting “from zero to one hundred,” [New York City Councilman Robert E. Cornegy Jr.] said.
Morenike Lambert, who works for a charter school network that supports low-income students, accused Mr. Branover of only inviting one “type of person” to Meat: “white people, Jewish people like you.” Mr. Branover refuted the accusation until New York State assemblywoman Tremaine S. Wright intervened to refocus the conversation on the mural.
As the meeting continued, it was revealed Meat and the Basil Hospitality Group didn't order the removal of the Price mural, as initially reported. Community council president James Caldwell told the attendees that just 10 days prior, Apolinar Severino, the owner of the building where the mural resides, had confirmed he was the one who requested the whitewashing. Severino reportedly said he was "advised by a real estate agent to whitewash the entire wall while trying to refinance his mortgage on the property."
Severino told the publication he is now reconsidering painting over the wall: "I didn’t know it was going to be a big thing," he said.