A New Jersey city has come under fire for changing a 33-foot, city commissioned Monopoly board mural that originally depicted a man behind bars.

A Monopoly game. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
A Monopoly game. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The street art debuted in Jersey City in May. The Jersey Journal reported it was repainted to a solid block of orange paint last week after some residents questioned whether the original image was racist.

The artist, Mr. Abillity, aka Gary Wynans, said the man behind bars is a self-portrait and doesn't depict a black man. He said he is of Puerto Rican and Italian ancestry.

The alteration faces more questions as some say the artist's First Amendment rights were violated.

Karin Bravin, an artist who operates a New York City gallery, says the artist has a "moral right to express himself" once commissioned for public art projects.

"It is a free speech issue," he said.

Svetlana Mintcheva, director of programs at the National Coalition Against Censorship, said cities that commission artwork should create policies they can follow if residents object.

"Pleasing everybody is not what public art is supposed to do," she said.

Mintcheva said a statement should've been installed near the street art explaining the image or a forum should've been hosted with the artist. She said she plans to write a letter to the city opposing city's handling of the matter.

But Pamela Johnson, leader of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement, and Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, D-Jersey City, both said that what the viewers see matters more than intent.

Johnson told the newspaper last week the image reinforced negative stereotypes against people of color.

Johnson said the First Amendment arguments opposing the change don't change her opinion.

"We already feel divided in the south," she said, referring to the city's southern end. "We do not need to see a person of color behind bars Downtown. We don't need to see that."

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