“Unarmed” is an art project in the form of a series of sports jersey designs honoring victims of police killings. It was created by my friend Raafi Rivero, a filmmaker and photographer based in Brooklyn, New York.
Each jersey is designed in the colors of a victim’s local sports team. The jersey number represents the victim’s age. Stars, if present, represent how many times the victim was shot. I designed the first ‘Unarmed’ jersey in 2013, not long after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, and first started posting designs to this website in 2014.
The project made its IRL debut a week ago on Flatbush Avenue where Rivero and his collaborators pasted up large-scale prints on store fronts boarded up during the pandemic. You can see local news coverage of the project at abc7ny.com.
I went to see them for myself earlier today. They had attracted some random graffiti already, but the jerseys are still very moving in person. Even viewed as graphics in a web browser though the they’re terribly effective at communicating the overwhelming sadness of their stories. Their bright, playful colors evoke the vibrancy of pro sports, as intended, but when you focus in on the numbers and stars, they evoke with great power the deep, harrowing loss that each victim’s families, friends and community experienced.
Rivero is clear that he has no interest in profiting from these designs or these senseless deaths. Still, I asked him if he planned to fabricate and sell real jerseys for charity. He said he had no firm plans to do so, but he did have one made in honor of Eric Garner as wardrobe in his independently produced film “72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story.” (That film is excellent, by the way.)
Here is a closer look at two of the designs: one for George Floyd and one for Breonna Taylor.