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‘Back the Blue’ mural outside Tampa police headquarters defaced overnight

An organizer predicted the mural would be targeted after it was criticized on social media.

TAMPA -- Red paint and a sticky black substance was found Wednesday morning splattered over a pro-police “Back the Blue” mural outside Tampa Police Department headquarters.

The mural was painted Saturday without the city’s permission, but Mayor Jane Castor later released a statement welcoming the mural as a tribute honoring law enforcement’s service. The mural lasted just three days before it was defaced.

The damage was mostly to the word “blue,” but splotches of paint were visible across the mural. Two people were involved in the vandalism, according to news release issued Wednesday by the Tampa Police Department.

About 10 p.m. Tuesday, an unknown person wearing all black was seen on camera getting out of a black vehicle and pouring an unknown substance on the mural. Police said it may have been tar. Shortly after midnight, another person spray-painted “F--- 12 and BLM,” on a roll-up utility door on the north side of Tampa police headquarters. According to the release, the person also poured red paint on the mural. “F--- 12″ is an anti-police slogan.

Police are still investigating.

“The Tampa Police Department expects everyone to express themselves in a lawful manner,” Tampa police chief Brian Dugan said in the release. “Murals painted in the city roadway need to be approved. We will continue to work with any group to make sure their First Amendment rights are heard.”

Police said the road would be closed along East Madison Street between North Florida Avenue and North Franklin Street — where the mural is located — because of tar in the roadway. But at 4 p.m. Wednesday, that stretch of road was still open to traffic.

Related: There’s a ‘Back the Blue’ mural at police headquarters, but Tampa didn’t okay it

Kristen Krutz, a Tampa resident who organized the mural’s creation, said she was disappointed to see it defaced. She said volunteers would be out Wednesday to repaint it.

People came out to repaint the mural, but a spokesperson from Tampa Police Department said in an email that they were stopped and told they needed a permit.

“This is a support to law enforcement, and we should have the right to exercise our First Amendment right and show support,” said Krutz, 36. We believe in law enforcement. We want law enforcement in our cities. We don’t want to defund the police. That’s what this is about.”

At Tampa City Council meetings, people have called on officials to defund the Tampa Police Department, but Mayor Jane Castor has said she’s not on board with the idea.

Organizers worked unsuccessfully for weeks to get approval for the mural. Tired of waiting, about 40 volunteers blocked traffic Saturday evening on East Madison Street with personal vehicles and orange cones to create the mural on their own.

Volunteers came from Back the Blue Florida, an online community with nearly 6,000 members. People also volunteered from Community Patriots Tampa, a private Facebook group with more than 1,000 members.

Jeff Hawks, a member of Community Patriots, declined to comment on the defacement of the mural. A representative from Back the Blue did not return a phone call asking for comment.

Krutz told the Times on Monday she expected the mural to be vandalized.

“There’s no doubt if they go out there and deface this mural that somebody is going to deface theirs,” Krutz said then. “That’s what irritates me. And it’s not going to be me. But it’s going to happen.”

The mural was criticized on social media as being difficult to read and ugly. Comedian Patton Oswalt weighed in on Twitter with a sarcastic comment: “Are you kidding? That looks great. I will always Blrbk the Blub.” Local Black Lives Matter activists said it felt like a retaliation to the movement and its murals.

Krutz said she has seen more positive comments about the mural than negative. The mural has received praise on Facebook from “Back the Blue” and other pro-police groups. However, Krutz also said people have left her death threats on her voicemail since it was painted.

“I have a family and a life and just because I have a different viewpoint, just because I want to show support for law enforcement because I don’t agree with defunding the police, that does not give you the right to attack my person and threaten my life,” Krutz said.

Whoever defaced the mural, Krutz said, doesn’t respect the First Amendment rights of others.

“The Black Lives Matter murals have been up for quite a while and no one with a different opinion has vandalized them,” she said.

• • •

Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times

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WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.

CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.

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