Jean-Michel Basquiat | Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart)Michael Stewart was an 135 pound, 25 year old African American graffiti artist from NYC who was arrested on September 15th 1983 after being seen scrawling graffiti on a wall of First Avenue Station in Manhattan .
He was booked at the Union Square District 4 transit police headquarters for resisting arrest and unlawful possession of marijuana, then was transported to Bellevue Hospital Center to undergo psychiatric observation. Stewart was admited to Bellevue Hospital at 03:22 am, handcuffed, legs bound and comatose. He never regained consciousness. was admitted to hospital about half an hour after his arrest in a coma from which he never awoke, dying on September 28th.
Six of those officers eventually faced homicide charges, and were acquitted. They were all white, and the jury were all white. According to the city’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Elliot Gross’s preliminary autopsy report, Stewart’s injuries of facial bruises and abrasions on his wrists were not linked to his death His death was from cardiac arrest caused by strangulation.
The November 2 medical examiner’s final report from Dr. Gross differed from his preliminary report. Gross declined to state explicitly what caused the death, but reported that Stewart died of “physical injury to the spinal cord in the upper neck” and concluded that there were “a number of possibilities as to how an injury of this type can occur…
Jean Michel Basquiat was upset and traumatized by the police killing of Michael Stewart; he felt that it could just as easily have been him. Obviously this piece looks at police brutality, with the word “defacement” referring to both the graffiti artist’s offense and the lethal beating to the face which the police administered for that offense (and probably more than that, too; e.g. erasure, dehumanization, non-recognition). Being the son of a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, Jean Michel grew up trilingual, speaking Spanish, French, and English, and all three languages make frequent appearances on his canvases.
relevant, New York. read this.