Killing of Oakland muralist shows neighborhood struggling with violence

Antonio Ramos, an artist working on a mural intended to bring a positive message to West Oakland, was killed following an argument on Tuesday.

D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune/AP
An evidence technician waits to measure the scene of a fatal shooting in the 3500 block of West Street, beneath Interstate 580, Tuesday, in Oakland, Calif. Oakland Police officials say an artist working on a community mural in a freeway underpass was shot and killed after an apparent argument with the shooter.

The brightly-colored mural on West Street, filled with vivid paintings of Victorian houses, a creek, and trees, was intended to provide a stark contrast to the West Oakland, Calif. neighborhood at times rocked by violence, that surrounded it.

But on Tuesday, morning, as Antonio Ramos began working on the partially-completed project, an argument erupted, escalating into a shooting which left Mr. Ramos dead, and his family and friends grieving.

“This is devastating," Dave Burke, a mural project art director, told NBC, as about 100 family members and friends gathered for a vigil in his honor on Wednesday morning at the site of the mural, an overpass near Interstate 580. "We're doing these murals especially because there's violence and incidents here like this.”

About 10 people were working with Ramos on the project on Tuesday morning, Oakland police said, but no one else was injured. After getting into a conversation with a man who was passing by that quickly grew heated, witnesses said, the man pulled out a gun and fired, hitting him once, NBC reports.

Originally from nearby Emeryville, Ramos began working for the Attitudinal Healing Connection, a local community group focused on preventing violence by engaging local youth in art and education projects, in 2012. After living in the neighborhood, he began passing by, and asked how he could help with another project, which led to a permanent job focused on the West Street mural, the group said in a statement.

“He had a huge smile on his face this morning as he rolled up in his car...” the statement added. “He was a bright light on the team, bringing positivity, humility and dedication to the project. He died this morning from senseless gun violence that continues to plague our communities.”

The 4,000 square-foot artwork, known as the Oakland Superheroes Mural Project, was designed by students at West Oakland Middle School to provide a counterpoint to violence in West Oakland, the statement said. Oakland has had 73 homicides this year, with several concentrated in the city’s western side.

Attendees at the vigil pointed to Ramos’ passion for the mural project. His killing was so “thoughtless and senseless,” neighbor Yvette Buiges told NBC. “I can't imagine an argument important enough to take someone's life.”

Aeeshah Clottey, one of the founders of the Attitudinal Healing Connection noted the irony that came with a killing at the site of a project intended to bring a positive message to a neighborhood struggling with combating violence.

"This is indicative of a global problem," Ms. Clottey told reporters. “And we want to look at ways to inspire peace.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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