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Campaign underway to restore vandalized mural of transgender activist

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Activists say the vandalism of the mural is a sign of sign of transphobia, homophobia and racism -- and a slap in the face.

Video Transcript

- First at 4:00, a campaign now underway to restore a mural honoring a transgender activist, and the mural was vandalized. The mural of Marsha Johnson, created in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. But someone painted over it in what activists call an act of hate. Eyewitness News reporter Michelle Charlesworth live in Elizabeth with more on this story. Michelle.

MICHELLE CHARLESWORTH: Well, this is a young, vibrant group of activists from Elizabeth who made this happen. They're all about 20 years old. And because of this, they are clearly heartbroken. They're very upset.

But they are also extremely determined to put this back, painted back, and make it even better. Because they say, guess what? This is proof that this is needed right here.

Now, the mural artist who did this has done dozens of social justice murals. And he says, you know what? This vandalism is a first.

MALCOLM ROLLING: Defaced like this? Never. I've never experienced this, and I won't.

MICHELLE CHARLESWORTH: Malcolm Rolling is the artist who painted the mural of activist Marsha P. Johnson. And these are members of a young LGBTQ+ group that organized the first Pride March in Elizabeth last year and made these murals the focal point of the start of the march.

- It's targeted. It's hatred, and we don't want that here.

- It's a clear sign of transphobia, homophobia, and racism.

MICHELLE CHARLESWORTH: The group is called the People's Committee of Elizabeth. And we talked to one founding member, Priscilla Goana, who is in Hawaii right now.

PRISCILLA GOANA: Huge, huge slap in the face. A huge slap in the face.

MICHELLE CHARLESWORTH: She says plans and fundraising are in the works to repaint the mural because it's clearly needed. Marsha P. Johnson was decades ahead of her time. She died when she was 46 in 1992.

She was a huge gay rights activist. She was a self-identified drag queen who was a key figure in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. And she was from Elizabeth, New Jersey. The group, TPCOE, is raising money on Instagram and Venmo. About $15,000 is needed just for paint to reimagine what was here, plus the artist plans to add to it.

MALCOLM ROLLING: I have something to say. Like I said, I'm a little furious, so I have something to say, and I want to be able to add something to the mural to make it more robust.

MICHELLE CHARLESWORTH: We are at 4th Street in East Jersey, just underneath the New Jersey turnpike in Elizabeth. Coming up in the 5:30 half hour, a little bit more on how all they need is money to get the paint to put this back and to add to it. And more on why.