Philip Marcelo, AP, July 28, 2016
About 50 police officers and their supporters upset about a Black Lives Matter banner that has been hanging outside City Hall for a year rallied on Thursday to try to pressure the mayor to remove it.
The primarily white opponents of the banner broke into chants of “All lives matter!” and “Take it down!” Many held signs saying “Cops lives matter” and “Support your local police.”
The mayor of Somerville, a largely white and historically working-class Boston suburb, had earlier in the day promised not to remove the banner despite complaints from officers across the state.
Mayor Joe Curtatone, a white Democrat, said Thursday afternoon it’s “OK to disagree” and the only way to resolve the impasse is through an “open dialogue” about race.
“That sign is not coming down,” he insisted while standing in front of City Hall flanked by the police chief and two deputy chiefs.
The Somerville Police Employees Association was among the unions represented at the opposition rally Thursday evening outside City Hall. Its president, Michael McGrath, said his officers support the “core goal” of the Black Lives Matter movement but believe the banner sends an “exclusionary message” and is disrespectful to officers.
“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,” McGrath said in a statement this week.
When asked whether [Mayor Curtatone] thought it was appropriate to place the Black Lives Matter banner on a government building, he replied: “No one can sit out this conversation. Where this is happening is in cities. This is the grassroots level.”
Curtatone hung the 4-foot-by-12-foot banner over City Hall’s main entrance in August 2015 at the request of a local Black Lives Matter chapter. He said then it was meant to recognize that “structural racism” exists in society and stressed it wasn’t a criticism of his police department.