A second icon depicting George Floyd as Jesus Christ has been stolen this week from the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, according to a university spokesperson.
Entitled Mama, the piece—which disappeared on Sunday—was the replacement for an identical icon installed in February at CUA’s law school and stolen late last month following a flurry of conservative media reports.
The second theft follows a resolution passed in the student government on December 6th, which sought the removal of the image and its replacement with “non-political and uncontroversial” African-American art.
“There are other paintings and icons that do a much better job at making a genuine, good-faith effort to reflect the universality of the Catholic Church that also do not divide and confuse the university and larger Catholic community.”
The university administration has defended the image since the controversy broke, but denied a direct connection between its Christ image and Floyd—in apparent contradiction with the law school’s original sentiments.
In the hours between the first conservative media reports and the original theft, however, the university scrubbed their website of most details on the original installation. After the theft, the school removed all references to the murdered African American in the caption for the replacement icon.
Kelly Latimore, a White Episcopalian who created Mama in June 2020, has said repeatedly that it does in fact juxtapose Jesus with Floyd.
“Jesus asks us to find him in all people, especially those who suffer as George Floyd did,” he told Religion News Service in an interview following the first theft.
After the viral success of the icon as a marker of Black solidarity, CUA’s campus ministry obtained a copy both for its own offices and for the law school as part of its Black History Month celebration this year.
That event, previously described in detail and with a video recording posted on the school’s website, now exists there only in a brief note.
The university administration's attempts to sanitize the image apparently had no effect on opposition from within the CUA community, as conservative students demanded its removal last month with a 5,000-strong online petition (and an additional 15,000 signers on similar petitions, according to reports).
While the petition and this month's SGA vote had no jurisdictional effect on the image’s standing at the law school, the added controversy was apparently enough to inspire a second crime.
Among the few public supporters of the icon on campus was the school's chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, which released a statement following the first theft and reposted it today.
The replacement image had been guarded by campus security, but it would appear the latest theft occurred outside of regular monitoring hours.
Unlike the first, originally said by the university to have been investigated by campus security, the second seems to have prompted collaboration with local police.
“We are working with the Metropolitan Police Department to investigate both this and the earlier theft,” said CUA Vice President for Communications Karna Lozoya in a statement.
“We ask all members of our community to please contact the Department of Public Safety with any information about either of these crimes.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).