Photo by the author.
While Washington is home to numerous stately memorials to national figures, murdered Redskins player Sean Taylor has his own unofficial memorial in the form of graffiti at the Brookland Metro station.
A few days after Taylor was killed in Miami, Florida, a spray-painted memorial mural appeared on the wall of the CSX rail line adjacent to the Brookland Metro station, where it remains today, untouched.
The mural, painted in the team’s colors of burgundy, gold, and white, is seen by tens of thousands of Red Line riders going in and out of the city every day.
Taylor, 24, was in his fourth year with the Redskins. In the twelfth week of the 2007 season he had 5 interceptions — third in the league, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. His reputation as one of the hardest hitting players in the league and his all-out style of play had endeared him to fans.
News of his death during a home invasion on November 27, 2007 quickly spread across the region, leaving his teammates and fans in a state of disbelief and grief. While the Redskins organization honored Taylor’s memory on the field, an established DC graffiti artist took to the red line in a public display of deference.
“The Red Line has been a hot spot since the mid-80’s, but became the spot in the early 90’s,” according to Roger Gastman, a Bethesda native and author of Free Agents: A History of DC Graffiti and the forthcoming The History of American Graffiti. “If you wanted to be someone in the DC graffiti scene, you had to hit the Red Line.”
“The Brookland station, you can walk right up to it. It is a very good location, if you can pull it off,” says Gastman.
“The best writers interact with their environment,” asserts Gastman, citing graffiti as the fastest growing art movement of the past forty years.
Beginning his graffiti career with the tag of “CERT” in 1992 at the age of 14, the well-known writer of the Sean Taylor mural declined an interview request for this article.
“The Red Line was CERT’s backyard. He basically lived there and owned it. CERT could disappear, but, to this day he holds enough respect that his spots will remain untouched for years to come,” reads CERT’s profile in Free Agents that describes his graffiti as “hardcore and illegal” and “always in highly visible spots.”
“Graffiti to me is my childhood, my teen years. That’s what I was about 100 percent. But I’m still representing. Don’t count me out. Don’t forget me. I can come back at any moment and in a month I’ll take king of the Red Line again,” contends CERT in the 2001 book.
“Whatever his reasons for slowing down, CERT is a true D.C. king. It’s time for him to sit back and let the mark he left on the city soak in. And like he said, don’t count him out. With a closet full of paint and heart that’s true to the game, CERT will be back,” Gastman foretold in the conclusion of CERT’s profile.
The mural has remained untouched since its appearance more than 3 years ago. Gastman says there is a code among writers that is being followed.
“Brookland station can be considered a museum for DC graffiti, because of the pieces that have endured over the years,” says Saaret Yoseph, a graduate student at Georgetown University. “Brookland is unique in that the art is eye level. The graffiti is looking right at you as you wait for your train.”
Yoseph is directing, “The Red Line D.C Project,” a documentary exploring the “communal experience” of graffiti on the Red Line as a public art space. It will be released later this year.
“What struck me about that one was here was a memorial to someone we actually knew— or knew of. So much graffiti is inscrutable. Who are the people named there? What’s the purpose of it? But this was one we could grasp immediately,” said John Kelly, a writer for The Washington Post and Red Line rider since 1983. “And then a few years later, just across the platform was another one that fell into that category: some memorial paint for Michael Jackson.”
On a recent morning at the Brookland Station, riders’ reactions to the graffiti suggested a sense of pride in the station’s distinction as the home of the Sean Taylor mural.
“If they cleaned it up we would be really hurt behind that one,” said Milford Obendorf, a Brookland resident waiting with his wife on the northbound train to Silver Spring.
“It’s been here since he passed away. People come here to look at it,” said Marquette Obendorf.
“It’s real creative,” said LaWanda Swain, a custodian with Metro for 6 years. “He played here so they have respect for him.”
“It spices things up. If they cleaned it up then you’d be staring at a wall for 15 minutes,” said Mike Young, 20, a cell phone sales rep downtown. “People remember Sean Taylor because he shouldn’t have died. He hit the hardest like when he cracked yungin’ in the Pro Bowl.”
Numerous videos on YouTube have compiled Taylor’s highlights as a Redskin, including a tackle of punter Brian Moorman in the Pro Bowl that lifted Moorman off his feet to a point where he was parallel to the field.
However, some riders expressed frustration with the station’s illegal art.
“It grows and grows until they clean it up,” said Joe, an older man in a white dress shirt, a Brookland resident for more than two decades. “The kids that do it are talented, but they can put their talents to better use.”
As a regular rider of the red line for more than a decade, I can remember the walls at Brookland being cleaned, “buffed” in the language of graffiti, about five years ago.
“The graffiti is on CSX property, not Metro property. Typically, when we become aware of graffiti, our goal is to remove it within 24 hours,” said Angela Gates, a Media Relations officer with Metro.
CSX did not respond to email and phone call requests for comment.
“There have been no graffiti-related arrests or citations in the last year at Brookland-CUA,” said Gates who emphasized that the property is outside of Metro’s jurisdiction.
With no apparent plans to clean the walls and a lack of enforcement around graffiti, the Sean Taylor mural will continue to be a distinctive cultural landmark for the Brookland Metro station.
A print version of this article will appear in the forthcoming spring edition of The Brookland Heartbeat.