Posted on September 12, 2020

Phoenix Denies Request for Black Lives Matter Street Mural

Jen Fifield, Arizona Republic, September 10, 2020

Phoenix has decided not to allow a “Black Lives Matter” mural to be painted on a downtown street after receiving another request for a pro-law enforcement mural.

The city doesn’t currently allow street murals but was considering launching a pilot program that would allow for them after activists proposed a mural with the “Black Lives Matter” statement as well as portraits of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., César Estrada Chávez and the U.S. Rep. John Robert Lewis.

The city denied the request on Wednesday, along with the other request for a street mural from Mark Spencer, a past president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association who is now southwest projects coordinator for national conservative group Judicial Watch.

Spencer requested permission for Judicial Watch to place a mural with the statement “No one is above the law,” in all capital letters, in front of Phoenix Police Department headquarters on Washington Street in downtown Phoenix. The wording is part of Judicial Watch’s motto, “Because no one is above the law!”

Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher sent similar letters to both groups Wednesday denying both of the mural requests because of “overriding concerns with safety, risks and federal guidelines for markings on streets.”

The city faces potential legal implications if it allows for one type of political messaging on city streets but not another.

Judicial Watch sued Washington, D.C., after the city denied its request to paint its motto on a city street but approved a “Black Lives Matter” mural.

A similar situation is playing out in New York City and in Tucson.


In response to the city’s denial letter, Gizette Knight, the organizer of the Black Lives Matter mural, said her group is preparing to sue the city. {snip}


Knight said the City Council needs to bring it to a vote. They did so, she pointed out, with the rainbow crosswalks at Seventh and Glenrosa avenues and Central Avenue at Portland Street — a tribute to the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.


Cities nationwide are getting “Black Lives Matter” street mural requests as the country sees racial unrest.


After seeing the proposal from Knight, Councilmember Laura Pastor requested city staff members meet with Knight to discuss details.

The Phoenix Transportation, Infrastructure and Innovation Subcommittee was planning on discussing last week whether to launch the pilot program.

The item was pulled from the agenda at the request of subcommittee members minutes before the subcommittee’s meeting was set to begin.

Then, on Tuesday, the City Council discussed the topic in an executive session, where they received advice from city attorneys on the matter.

The city manager’s denial letters came the next day.


When city staff evaluated the proposal for the “Black Lives Matter” mural, it cited concerns about safety, including the how the mural would potentially confuse and distract drivers and directly interfere with pavement markings meant to direct traffic.

Kini Knudson, the city’s street transportation director, said the city follows federal guidance from the Federal Highway Administration for street markings that are meant to keep people safe.


Asked what’s different about the rainbow crosswalks, Knudson said the city’s policy allows for solid colors and patterns, but not text, messages or graphics.

Knudson said the point is to keep drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians focused on staying safe on the road.

“Anything that can take their attention away from that is something that would be concerning for us, from a roadway safety standpoint,” he said.