At the opening reception on October 3, 2015, UMM invited neighbors to contribute to an art-letter to the local police, which was comprised of 140-character individual messages translated through Morse code. The project was prompted by recent events in UMM’s own neighborhood as well as nationally, and was also inspired by the use of Morse code by contemporary artists, including Claudia Bertucci, whose work is part of UMM’s current exhibit. Participants emailed or brought “tweet”-length snippets to contribute to the art-letter, which was intended to address both the difficulties and potentials of communication.
For context on the events in UMM’s neighborhood, here is a statement from a community member posted to a listserv:
“On September 1, 2015, five UC-Irvine police officers, all with guns drawn, extracted a 20 year-old black male resident from his home at gunpoint. He was committing no crime – just hanging out with two friends. Two neighbors witnessed this event and wondered why it happened, how it could happen, and how it might be prevented from happening again. As of today, the UC-Irvine police have given no explanation, only stating in a letter to the home owner that the officers were “exonerated” of all charges of wrong doing. We do not know what those charges are nor do we know how precisely the exonerations were adjudicated.”
– Michael Montoya
After much discussion, a group of concerned neighbors formed the Community Safety & Diversity Working Group. Organized by parents Martha Feldman and Hobart Taylor, whose son was involved in this incident, this group promotes a safe, just, and friendly neighborhood by creating opportunities for residents to interact with each other and law enforcement. For more information, please contact Martha Feldman or Hobart Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since this project took place, UMM’s neighborhood has come a long way towards improving dialogues around racism, thanks to the formation of a Community Safety & Diversity Working Group, events like implicit bias training workshops, and the collective effort of countless members of this community. Yet the question remains, amplified by the events of 2020: What would it be like to live in a society in which being free and equal encompasses freedom from being considered inferior, suspicious, or a threat? At this pivotal moment, UMM urges you to join us for the historic task of asking how our beliefs, actions, and institutions enact differential treatment of people of color, and pairing courage with vision to challenge the status quo.