On Friday, The Root reported that the city of Tulsa made a decision last week to remove the Black Lives Matter mural painted on a street in the district where the Black Wall Street race riot occurred in 1921. They made the decision because someone requested that a “Back the Blue” mural be painted in the city as a counter-message.
On Monday, protesters placed on the mural symbolic tombstones bearing the names of Black people who were either killed by police officers or died during the Tulsa massacre nearly 100 years ago. This prompted city officials to temporarily suspend the decision to remove the mural.
The Washington Post reports that protesters were “braced for a standoff” with law enforcement to prevent the city from removing the mural that was painted on Juneteenth.
“I felt like displaying the names of the victims of police brutality and the names of the victims of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre would help people understand why we say, ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Tiffany Crutcher, twin sister of Terence Crutcher who was fatally shot by a Tulsa police officer in 2016 and whose killer was found not guilty, told the Post.
Placing the symbolic tombstones on the mural was a noble effort to preserve the 250-foot-long statement that the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t going anywhere. Unfortunately, the city ultimately decided to move forward with its removal.
According to ABC affiliate KOCO News 5, Mayor G.T. Bynum simply decided that the whole thing had become too complicated and too much of a hassle to sort out because, while the city gave permission for the mural to be painted, the property owners on the street did not.
From News 5:
The Tulsa mayor said city officials are faced with two options: They can start permitting messages in streets or they can “vacate” the street and turn it over to the adjacent property owners.
“Permitting for use of streets is at the discretion of the Tulsa City Council,” Bynum wrote. “Last week, the consensus of the council was that turning streets into messaging forums created too many potential challenges – foremost among them that once you allow one message to be displayed, you legally have to allow any message to be displayed. If we start permitting messages, it potentially turns every street in town into a billboard.”
From Tulsa World:
When a street is vacated by the city, the street becomes the property of the adjacent land owners. In this case, the land on either side of Greenwood Avenue between Archer Street and the Interstate 244 overpass, where the sign was painted, is owned by the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce.
“It was brought to my attention on Friday that the property owner really had not been involved in the installation of the art and hadn’t been really involved in any of the discussion to date around what should be done there,” Bynum said.
On Tuesday, Bynum posted a lengthy explanation of why the mural has to be removed to Facebook.
“It is a beautiful mural,” Bynum wrote. “The message is an important one, and its location is a powerful one given all that Greenwood means to Tulsa.
It was also placed in a public street without the permission of the businesses or property owners on either side of it, by people who told police it was temporary paint that would wash away in a few days.”