City Hall “Black Lives Matter” Banner Sparks Upset and Dialogue

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July 27, 2016; Boston Globe

When a frame of reference begins to shift, it sometimes seems to move quickly—as with LGBT issues over the past five years—but it often actually follows years of hard work. For now, we can only be grateful that increasing numbers of people understand that the safety of young black men and police officers are bound up together, as they always have been, and both of these are bound up with other practices that reflect a deeply embedded legacy of marginalization.

In Somerville, Massachusetts, Mayor Joseph Curtatone authorized the posting of a  “Black Lives Matter” banner on City Hall last August. Recently, after the killing of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, an “In Honor and Remembrance” banner also was hung from the police station.

“Those banners do not represent competing thoughts,” Curtatone said. “Standing up for our minority populations and supporting the police officers who protect and serve our communities should go hand-in-hand.”

Nevertheless, a statewide organization of local police unions planned to join the Somerville Police union at a rally last night at City Hall to protest the Black Lives Matter banner.

“In the face of the continuing assassination of innocent police officers across the country…it is irresponsible of the city to publicly declare support for the lives of one sector of our population to the exclusion of others,” Michael McGrath, police union president, said in a statement earlier this week this week.

“The rally will be peaceful and respectful, but will demonstrate the solidarity of police organizations in Massachusetts to the exclusionary message that the banner sends,” the Somerville Police Employees Association said in a news release.

Curtatone contends the public has thanked him for keeping the banner up and that some police officers have told him they were not supportive of the protests.

“What our residents and our officers made clear is they reject the notion that there are two sides to pick here,” Curtatone said. “We can stand together for the principle that every person who leaves their home and every officer who heads out to do their job should return safely. That is where most people stand. That is why both banners will remain.”

Somerville Police Chief David Fallon chided the union for getting involved in the debate. He said he supports keeping the banner over City Hall.—Ruth McCambridge