TAMPA (WFLA) – The “Back the Blue” mural painted in front of the police department in Downtown Tampa was defaced with tar and red paint Tuesday night. Crime Stoppers is offering a $3,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.
The police department said an individual wearing all black clothing and a black mask hopped out of a black vehicle around 10 p.m. and poured what’s believe to be tar over the mural. Police said the car circled around TPD headquarters prior to the act.
Shortly after midnight, police said a second individual spray painted “F*** 12” and “BLM” in red spray paint on a utility door on the north side of the police department’s headquarters. The individual also poured red paint on the street mural.
“The Tampa Police Department expects everyone to express themselves in a lawful manner,” Chief Brian Dugan said. “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.”
Part of East Madison Street between Florida Avenue and Franklin Street is closed due to the tar in the roadway.
The mural was painted over the weekend on Madison Street by a group called Back the Blue Florida.
One of the creators is Bill Lawless a retired Sargent with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. During the summer, amid protests and the pandemic, he says, law enforcement has not been appreciated or respected.
“When I see law enforcement being demonized for the actions of a few people throughout the country, it bothers me greatly, Lawless said. “It’s a tough profession to begin with and right now, it’s horrendous.”
The blue, white and black display reads “Back the Blue” and features a black and blue ribbon. “Back the Blue” is a message in support of law enforcement. The phrase has been used frequently in response to recent calls to defund the police and to the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the United States.
The group that painted the mural did not have a permit to do so, a city spokesperson told WFLA.
Lawless tells 8 On Your Side he doesn’t understand how others who have painted murals in the past were seemingly given free reign, when this group, he maintains, was not.
“They were given permission within a day or two, and we were put off for weeks. We got consent, it wasn’t in writing or permit, but we got consent,” Lawless said.
Lawless says he’s not surprised the mural was vandalized, but feels the message remains in tact.
“It was strictly a positive message for law enforcement and even though they destroyed it, the message got out.”