This Brooklyn artist is honoring Black victims of police brutality through his love of sports

·Yahoo Sports Contributor
·3 min read
Photos provided by Raafi Rivero
Photos provided by Raafi Rivero

A New York artist is honoring the Black victims of police brutality by splashing basketball-style jerseys with their names all over the Brooklyn.

A filmmaker by trade, Raafi Rivero says he was inspired to start the “Unarmed” series following the February 2013 murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, and subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman. The ruling coincidentally fell on the same weekend as the premiere of “Fruitvale Station,” a film depicting the events leading up to the death of Oscar Grant, a Black man killed in 2009 by a BART police officer in Oakland.

“I took it on the chin,” Rivero told Yahoo Sports. “That was in 2009. Here we are, a decade later, still facing the same racial injustice. As a Black man, I wondered what could I do to bring attention to these issues. So, I channeled my grief and emotion into artistry and came up with idea of Unarmed.”

Raafi Rivero (Photo by Sean Mattison)
Raafi Rivero (Photo by Sean Mattison)

The attention to detail in Rivero’s designs is meticulous. He indicates the number of bullets used to kill the person through stars on the jersey. The jersey number symbolizes the victim’s age. His creations are housed in an art installation in Brooklyn, blending in perfectly with the neighborhood’s ever-changing art scene.

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Although Rivero has created a number of jerseys, it’s Terence Crutcher’s story that particularly stands out to him. On Sept. 16, 2016, Crutcher was shot and killed by Officer Betty Shelby during a traffic stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Shelby was charged with first-degree manslaughter and a jury eventually found her not guilty.

Rivero had the chance to meet with Crutcher’s twin sister while filming a documentary in Oklahoma last year, and to this day cannot fathom why Shelby wasn’t convicted.

“I mean, the dashcam footage was so clear cut. They found zero weapons or firearms on Terrence or in his vehicle. It’s sickening to witness this conduct occur without consequence for the aggressor.”

Sandra Bland, commemorated on the left, was 28 when she died in a Texas jail after being arrested during a traffic stop. Eric Garner, commemorated on the right, was 43 when a New York police officer put him in a chokehold until he suffocated. (Photo courtesy of Raafi Rivero)
Sandra Bland, commemorated on the left, was 28 when she died in a Texas jail after being arrested during a traffic stop. Eric Garner, commemorated on the right, was 43 when a New York police officer put him in a chokehold until he suffocated. (Photo courtesy of Raafi Rivero)

An avid sports enthusiast, Rivero is a lifelong fan of LeBron James. However, he credits retired NFL quarterback Doug Williams as one of his early sports heroes.

“I lived in Washington, D.C. growing up. Watching Doug Williams lead the Redskins to a second championship and becoming the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl was legendary.”

A fan of athletes who are change makers on and off the field, Rivero names Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, four-time Super Bowl champion Ronnie Lott and six-time NBA Finals champion Michael Jordan as his other personal role models.

The jerseys have attracted considerable attention, with many wondering if Rivero will eventually make them into physical shirts for purchase. He’s in the process of speaking with manufacturers, but Rivero wants to make it clear the intention behind the jerseys is not to make a profit off the lives taken at the hands of police brutality.

“There’s something about seeing a jersey that helps us all process the betrayal of these killings. I hope it helps individuals realize that all we're asking is for law enforcement to stop killing us.”

To see more of the “Unarmed” installation, visit Rivero’s Instagram page.

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