The defaced mural on the Beta Bridge near the University of Virginia
The defaced mural on the Beta Bridge near the University of Virginia
PHOTO: Courtesy Lyle Solla-Yates
(CNN) —  

A mural supporting black trans women near the University of Virginia was crossed out by a pro-gun message twice in two days, the university said.

The mural appeared on the Beta Bridge, which runs through the campus. UVA students frequently post art, write protests and express free speech on the bridge. It’s a tradition of expression that dates back decades.

The mural, which read “PROTECT BLACK TRANS WOMEN,” was found defaced on December 14 with “2A” written over the end of the word “PROTECT,” the word “GUNS” written over “TRANS” and the word “WOMEN” crossed out.

UVA students rushed to paint over the defacement – an apparent reference to the Second Amendment – but it was found defaced in the same manner the next day, December 15.

The university, in a statement, said it is “aware of the changes” made to the bridge.

“Beta Bridge is a long recognized public forum that may on occasion cause controversy or disagreement about the messages expressed or the intentions of individuals who choose to paint the bridge,” the university said. “We hope that community members will continue to honor this long-standing tradition of public expression in a way that respects every member of this community and the viewpoints they bring to Grounds.”

The university has not launched an investigation into the incident, school spokesman Brian Coy told CNN.

Charlottesville police spokesman Tyler Hawn told CNN that the incident is not likely to be investigated by law enforcement because the messages on the bridge are considered free speech and the defacement didn’t include threatening language.

“Unless someone is making a direct threat, it’s protected speech and not a crime,” Hawn said.

Mara Keisling, the executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, disagrees.

“There was plenty of other space to paint this,” she said. “It’s not free speech if you cross out a message of peace with a message of aggression.”

At least 22 transgender people have been killed this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The organization said 91 percent of them were black women. Two-thirds of all trans deaths since 2013 were “gun-related,” the group said.

“Members of the transgender community, and especially transgender women of color, are at elevated risk of violence, and acts such as this serve only to deepen an atmosphere of fear and alienation among these members of our UVA and Charlottesville communities,” UVA student body president Ellie Brasacchio said in a statement. “Degrading incidents like this one must not be tolerated, and should instead direct us to protect and care for all fellow students and community members.”

Students who talked to CNN said they want to see a stronger response from the university on the incident.

Third-year student Immanuel Ndumbe, a member of the university’s Black Student Alliance, said the university’s statement doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t say what action would be taken to prevent a similar occurrence.

“The university condemns, but its statements don’t change minds or actions,” Ndumbe said. “It needs to put students’ minds at ease.”