Howe Elementary unveils new mural, muralist recounts police involvement
Regional muralist Irineo Medina recently completed a mural celebrating the diversity of Howe Elementary School students despite a run in with the Green Bay Police Department
By John McCracken
Howe Elementary Community School recently unveiled a new mural to celebrate the diversity of its students and surrounding community. The mural, painted by Appleton-based muralist Irineo Medina, can be found on the school’s playground blacktop, which is directly underneath a segment of the Mason Street underpass.
According to a statement from the Green Bay Area Public School District (GBAPS), the mural provides Howe students and families with a mirror to see themselves in and is inspired by the school’s vision statement: “Howe is a place of excellence where all students are resilient, capable and brilliant learners who are empowered to reach their full potential and make valuable contributions to society.”
The mural depicts six different, current students of various backgrounds and ethnicities on the pillars of the underpass. Medina painted large, bright portraits after families at the school submitted more than 30 submissions of children’s portraits.
Medina, a Latino muralist who has created murals in the Green Bay, Appleton and the surrounding areas said he was honored to work with the school and its students on such an important project.
“It’s a lot about building self worth and confidence,” Medina said.
Medina said students from every Howe classroom had an opportunity to help paint the mural and they loved being engaged in the process.
“For them to have a hand in something larger than life,” Medina said, “I think they’re pretty pumped about it.”
While the final product was something Medina said he was humbled to be a part of, there were a few hiccups.
Medina said one night, around midnight, he was out painting the mural at Howe Elementary. Medina said he works odd hours because art is a side hustle he pursues on top of his full time job as a mentor for Black youth through the Appleton Area School District.
While painting the mural on the underpass at night time, Medina was approached by Green Bay Police Department (GBPD) officers. Medina said he was issued a ticket for trespassing, despite him telling the GBPD he had authorization and permission through the Green Bay School District and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (who own that section of the bridge).
Medina said it was sudden and uncomfortable.
He said he did not feel heard or listened to by the officers on the scene when he was trying to explain his work and permissions to be at the school property, despite the odd hour of the night.
“(The officer) was definitely operating on the bias that I was up to something wrong,” Medina said. (That) I was doing something wrong (and) I didn’t belong there.”
In the days after, Medina took to social media, specifically his Instagram account to air his grievances. From there he said he was connected with Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich, Appleton Mayor Jake Woodford and GBPD Operations Commander Kevin Warych. The ticket has since been dropped, Medina was allowed to continue work on the mural and he said did not go through with filing a complaint because of the prompt response from Warych.
GBAPS issued a statement to Green Bay City Pages addressing the situation as well. “The Green Bay Area Public School District recognizes that proactive communication with the Green Bay Police Department regarding the mural project at Howe Elementary School could have prevented the incident,” the statement said. “We deeply regret that the incident occurred.”
GBPD School Resource Officer Lieutenant Brad Strouf said officers initially approached Medina because they received complaints about someone painting under a bridge at night.
Strouf said the officers issued a citation because Medina was “not able to provide proper permissions” at the time of the incident.
Medina said the incident at Howe wasn’t the first time he has had a run in with police as a muralist, but it was the first time it has escalated to a citation.
“Usually what happens is that they come up, they take a look at my work, they see that I have spotlights and electricity access, and I’m playing music and calling attention to myself,” he said.
He said he hopes the incident can be a learning moment for the GBPD.
“Use this moment to teach the rest of your squad,” Medina said. “So that when they’re patrolling the streets, they’re not treating different minorities differently than white people.”
John McCracken is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @jmcjmc451.
This story initially appeared in the What Just Happened section of our October 21, 2021 issue. What Just Happened is a brief collection of local news, happenings and updates in the Greater Green Bay area. To see our full issues, don’t forget to pick us up in print at one of these locations.