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Less than a month after the Dec. 24, 2016 death of George Michael, two Australian artists painted a mural of the 53-year-old pop singer in Sydney, Australia showing the pop star dressed as a saint and holding a joint and a bottle of poppers. Then, on Nov. 18, 2017, a tattooed 23-year-old man named Ben Gittany defaced the George Michael mural in black paint. Yesterday, a judge ordered Gittany to pay $14,000 in compensation and do 300 hours of community service scrubbing graffiti from public walls.
Artists Scott Marsh and stereogamous created the larger than life mural in Sydney on the corner of Bray Street and Concord Street. In a Facebook post, stereogamous wrote, “Presenting Saint George, Patron Saint of Parks at Night. Remembering this lover and activist watching over us all.”
Gittany purchased $135 in black paint and proceeded to vandalize the mural. While defacing it, onlookers recorded him on camera. At the time, he was wearing his work uniform, making it easy for police to later track him down.
While being recorded, Ben Gittany told onlookers, “I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m defending my religion.” When one onlooker told him that he could go to prison, he replied, “I don’t care what happens to me, my religion’s more important than me.”
When issuing her verdict, New South Wales Local Court magistrate Carolyn Huntsman said, “You travelled to someone else’s community and imposed your views on them with an act that was criminal and harmful.”
She added, “We are not a community where violence, criminal acts and property destruction are sanctioned because you have different beliefs to other people. They had to look at it for months. It distressed the owner and the community, and it was extensive.”
The $14,000 will compensate the mural owners. Gittany’s 300 hours of community service may include having to wash grafitti off of walls. “Every time you have to spend hours washing damaged walls,” Huntsman told Gittany, “you can reflect on your own conduct.”
Over 34,000 people signed a petition in defense of Gittany claiming that the original mural incited religious hatred by perverting religious symbolism.
What do you think of Ben Gittany’s punishment for defacing the George Michael mural?
Featured image by Peter Rae via AAPIMAGE