Arts & Culture

Union Pacific presses felony charges against Houston artist accused of painting over ‘Be Someone’ graffiti

Chandrika Metivier, 27, is alleged to have painted “NO WAR KNOW PEACE” and “#WOMANLIFEFREEDOM” on the side of a rail bridge near Downtown Houston. The “BE SOMEONE” message, which also is graffiti art, previously appeared on the structure.

Share

A Houston artist has been charged with felony graffiti for allegedly painting over the “BE SOMEONE” message, which also is graffiti art, on a Union Pacific-owned railroad bridge in Houston.

Union Pacific Railroad is pursuing criminal charges against a Houston graffiti artist alleged to have painted over the iconic "BE SOMEONE" message on the side of a rail bridge near downtown – not because the railway takes issue with the sentiments of the recent messages, but because it wants to crack down on graffiti in general.

Chandrika Metivier, 27, was charged Feb. 9 with graffiti, a state jail felony, according to Harris County court records. The artist is alleged to have painted "NO WAR KNOW PEACE" in February 2022 and "#WOMANLIFEFREEDOM" in January of this year on the Union Pacific-owned bridge that crosses Interstate 45 a little north of Downtown Houston.

When asked if Union Pacific has tried to pursue criminal charges against the person or people responsible for the "BE SOMEONE" graffiti – which first appeared more than a decade ago – railroad spokesperson Robynn Tysver said it is "not always possible to gather enough evidence to pursue charges." The "BE SOMEONE" artist or artists have maintained anonymity, whereas the latter messages were linked to Metivier through social media posts and an interview the artist conducted with the Houston Chronicle last year, according to the probable cause affidavit filed in court.

"Union Pacific cannot look the other way when safety is on the line," Tysver said in a statement. "Artists who trespass on bridges to ‘tag' a message – whether a positive or a negative message – risk both their life and the lives of innocent motorists, pedestrians and others traveling below. We urge everyone for their safety and the safety of our employees and the public to stay off railroad property."

An attorney for Metivier, who had not been arrested as of Thursday, was not listed in online court records for the case. Metivier did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment that was sent to the Instagram account cited in the probable cause affidavit, which includes posts about the graffiti Metivier is accused of painting along with a post about an additional message that once was on the side of the bridge, "BE THE R(EVOLUTION)."

Instagram Screenshot
via Instagram

The Instagram account, with the handle @ch4ndrika, also includes a post from Thursday about a legal defense fund set up for Metivier on GoFundMe.com. The post said the city profits from artwork displayed on the rail bridge because it promotes tourism, and that the graffiti creates awareness about local artists and their endeavors.

"It has been argued this action was taken due to safety concerns yet no attempt was made by authorities to reach out or speak to me before applying a serious state jail felony charge," the post states. "This penalty is not only unjustified but also goes against the city's current initiatives to embrace public art. We should be embracing aspiring entrepreneurs and enthusiasts, not incarcerating them or silencing their creative freedom."

Special agent Cody Osborne with the Union Pacific Railroad Police Department, and not authorities with the City of Houston or Harris County, investigated the matter, according to the probable cause affidavit. In it, Osborne outlines the dangers of being near train tracks and painting on the side of a structure that is elevated above a freeway and includes gaps through which a person could fall.

Osborne also makes multiple references to the property in question as the "BE SOMEONE bridge." The message has been featured in postcards and inspired a local craft beer called "Bee Someone," which is made by Houston's 11 Below Brewing.

It would cost Union Pacific more than $9,000 to paint over the current message on the side of the bridge, according to the probable cause affidavit, which says the railroad could end up spending more than $30,000 if it needs to temporarily close the roadway underneath the bridge while performing the work.

Today in Houston Newsletter Signup
We're in the process of transitioning services for our Today in Houston newsletter. If you'd like to sign up now, fill out the form below and we will add you as soon as we finish the transition. **Please note** If you are already signed up for the newsletter, you do not need to sign up again. Your subscription will be migrated over.