Micheal Stewart (1958-1983)

Jean-michel Basquiat Death of Michael Stewart 1983



‘Defacement’ (The Death of Michael Stewart) 1983 by Jean-Michel Basquiat

He died at age 25, on September 28, after 13 days in a coma.

Lay down your burdens
Lay down your cares
The Holy Virgin
She’s gonna greet you up there


With a big can of spray paint
With a big blank wall
And I can guaran-damn tee ya
There ain’t no cops around at all


Graffiti Limbo
Where do you go?
Graffiti Limbo
When there ain’t no justice


I only speak for myself
But the word around town
Is that something’s shaking
In the underground
I only speak for myself
But the word on the street
Is that the writing’s on the wall
And the cop’s on the beat


I wrote this song for a man named Michael Stewart
A young black man arrested while writing graffiti
On a subway wall in New York City
And while under arrest, surrounded by eleven white transit cops


Michael Stewart was strangled to death
And when his case went to court
Not one cop was found guilty
Because the coroner lost the evidence


You see, in order to determine
That Michael Stewart was strangled to death
The coroner had to use Michael Stewart’s eyeballs
His eyes, as evidence


So now when I tell you
That it was Michael Stewart’s eyes
That the coroner lost, do you know what I mean
When I tell you that justice is blind?


You can have your little Style Wars
You can keep your little dance
But those crazy writers
Don’t stand a ghost of a chance


It’s, “Color them Cons”, Mayor Koch said
Call it a crime
It’s steer clear of the engineer
Of the midnight special line


Lryics to ‘Graffitti Limbo’ by Michelle Shocked via SongLyrics.com

“It could have been me. It could have been me.”


These were the words uttered by painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was deeply shaken after he heard the story of a black graffiti artist who was beaten to death by New York City police. Seeing his own life reflected in the death of a fellow artist, Basquiat went on to create Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), not only to commemorate the young man’s death, but also to challenge the state-sanctioned brutality that men of color could face for pursuing their art in public spaces.

via ‘It Could Have Been Me’: The 1983 Death Of A NYC Graffiti Artist | Code Switch : NPR.

The grisly details of his murder are recounted in this archival piece from The New York Times:

When the van arrived at the station, Mr. Stewart – 5 feet, 11 inches tall, weighing about 143 pounds – tried to run away but was caught by the officers and thrown to the ground, the officers have said.
According to the prosecutors, the officers then began beating Mr. Stewart.
”Transit officers struck Stewart’s prone and defenseless body with either billy clubs or nightsticks,” the papers said. ”One witness even saw Stewart being choked with a nightstick.”
”As Stewart lay helpless, face down on a sidewalk, with his hands still cuffed behind his back, he was repeatedly kicked by transit officers. As the beating continued, Stewart’s screams became less loud and intense, until he fell silent,” the papers said.
Mr. Stewart was then hogtied, the prosecutors said. ”His ankles were wrapped together and were pulled towards his back with an elastic binding that connected his ankle restraints to his handcuffs.”