CATSKILL — The Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition’s quest for a Black Lives Matter mural on Main Street will continue after a village board meeting Wednesday.
The Coalition first requested the mural on June 14. Additionally, the group has requested a mural on Second Street in Hudson. Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson has committed to the mural, he said Wednesday.
The Catskill village board has proposed two compromises: Paint a mural on Water Street or have banners above Main Street.
“What does it say about our community values to push a statement for black lives to the side?,” Coalition Coordinator Molly Stinchfield said. “If we are only willing to say black lives matter on a low-traffic side street used primarily as a cut through to Hop-O-Nose or a temporary banner that can be destroyed by the wind or torn down? The main concern [Village President] Vinny Seeley mentioned was not wanting to disrupt Main Street businesses after COVID. The village board’s 10-plus day deliberation sends the message that they value the economy and tourism before black lives.”
Second Ward Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga of Hudson said the mural would be a positive thing for the community.
“It could actually bring customers and tourists to your city because it would show the diversity, love and actual concern that the village of Catskill has for black lives and acknowledging what has been going on with black lives for generations — that we matter now and we’re going to do something about it. By having this mural, not only does it uplift people of color in your village, but it shows other people of other races the respect that we have for one another. And wouldn’t you want to be proud to live in a place that acknowledges people and not just funeral services?”
In terms of the loss of traffic flow for two days, Garriga encouraged the trustees to think of it as putting in a crosswalk.
“Think of it in the same way as if you closed off the street for the painting of a crosswalk for the safety of pedestrians,” she said. “This mural shows the dedication of safety for black lives matter in the village of Catskill.”
Stinchfield addressed the board about its priorities.
“We’re all wondering what is the value of black lives to the village board?” she said. “Is the value for businesses and the economy or are we willing to put ourselves on the line for black lives and for change?”
Black residents are also contributors to the local economy, Garriga added.
“Understand without black lives there wouldn’t be a thriving business and economy,” she said. “Black people, black lives, we spend our money, our taxes just as well as anyone else in the village of Catskill.”
Trustee Peter Grasse Jr. said he felt a compromise needed to be reached.
“Regardless of race, gender, party, as a board member it’s my job to represent the community as a whole,” he said. “I feel if there is overwhelming support for any cause, you have my vote. You have 900 signatures, we have how many residents?”
Seeley replied the village had 4,500 residents.
“Get some real support and let’s get a compromise,” Grasse said. “We talk about race and people of color. My son smoked me last weekend. He’s 11 years old. He asked me why are we talking about black people? He was raised not to notice color. But now he is aware of what is going on and it kind of bothered me. I don’t feel the village of Catskill has a major problem. I know we have nationwide problems. We all see that.”
“I don’t want to interfere with how you raise your child but I am a person of color and I do see color because that is what drives this country,” she said. “Colors of all races. That is what builds the culture of this country. You can tell a million stories about how we don’t want to raise our children and shelter them from racism but we cannot because all lives do not matter unless black lives matter. We cannot simply understand people of color because we had a [black] friend, a customer, a neighbor. You have to really understand them on the front lines.”
Claire Cousin, a Coalition member and chairwoman of the Staley B. Keith Social Justice Center in Hudson, agreed.
“A lot of young people are organizing right now, which means they’re paying attention to what value you’re putting on their lives,” Cousin said. “The Lumberyard isn’t getting very much business right now. I don’t think [Water Street] is an ideal place. I don’t think that it’s strategic for the village to put it there and I think that it says something completely different than what the meaning of black lives matter is, which is why they asked for it to be on Main Street.”
Trustees had previously discussed closing Main Street to help support local businesses as the economy began to reopen but were met with resistance, Trustee Natasha Law said. “We had conversations discussing shutting down Main Street a few weeks back thinking it would help businesses flourish and all but four [businesses] wanted absolutely nothing to do with it. One business even went as far as stating he would close his doors permanently if we shut the street down at all after not being allowed to be open for three months due to COVID. Residents didn’t want the inconvenience, either.”
Due to resistance to previous attempts to close Main Street, the board asked the Housing Coalition to select a different location for the mural, Law said.
“It’s difficult in the village because many high-traffic roads are state-owned such as Spring and West Bridge Street,” she said. “The road leading to Lumberyard was one of the areas the village offered. The Lumberyard was 100% for it and anyone driving on West Bridge Street would see it. I actually think the mural would bring people to the village.”
Of nearly 1,000 signatures on the Housing Coalition’s online petition, there are several Main Street businesses, Cousin said.
Julie Chase, owner of Open Studio, supports the mural.
“I am 100% for the mural being done on Main Street,” she said. “I think it’s important symbolically. If it ends up being put on a side street it doesn’t have the symbolic importance that it would have if it were on Main Street.”
Seeley said the board would review the petition and see what businesses have signed. He also asked Stinchfield for a sketch and dimensions of the mural, as well as the precise location so the board could contact business owners in that section of Main Street.
Stinchfield estimated the street would need to be closed for two days to allow for the mural to dry.
“We can pre-measure before closing the street to cut down on the street closure time,” she said.
Seeley said he supports the banner idea.
“I just go back to the banner concept. Having a mobile banner,” he said. “The bottom line is you want to get awareness and get people talking and get people taking action. If we had banners and we put them around town I think we’d get much more visibility
Shutting down Main Street for two days to do this is just going to be problematic. “We tried to close Main Street down for some other things and we just were met with a plethora of issues and people challenging us.”
Law suggested the mural be painted on a building rather than a roadway.
I think it would be better on a building, personally, for wear-and-tear reasons,” she said. “Why do we have to do what every other city is doing? There are many great large buildings in the village and I think the owners would be for it.”
Ben Fain, who is opening the Mr. Cat Hotel, has voiced his support to let the Coalition paint a mural on the side of his building, Law said.
Trustee Joseph Kozloski said he is more in favor of the banner idea.
“When people drive up and down Main Street, the banner is easier to see,” he said. “The banner would be a better fit to see that black lives matter in our community.”
Seeley also talked about sourcing funding for two banners from the community.
“One could be put up on Main Street if that’s appropriate but then also one on the other side of town, up by the Walmart area or up by our firehouse. The reason being that not everybody goes through our Main Street. So many people travel 9W.”
Trustee Greg Smith said the conversation needs to continue.
“It’s a delicate situation given the businesses have been closed for so long,” he said. “I’m not opposed to the mural. We have to weigh everything out.”
The action of painting the mural is to stand in solidarity with other cities across the nation, Cousin said.
“A banner is beautiful and that would be great in addition,” she said. “The act itself, the demonstration, is that it’s not about inconvenience anymore. That’s what the problem has been for so long and that’s why its so profound when cities are saying we don’t care about [streets] being shut down or we’re willing to take the inconvenience because we want our people to know they matter.”
In addition to the request to change the location of the mural, the board also asked the Coalition to change the slogan, Stinchfield said.
Originally one of the proposed slogans was, “Defund the Police.”
“When we first asked Vinny, that was one of the potential slogans we asked about,” Stinchfield said. “He said it would have to say Black Lives Matter and we were willing to do that. We were not willing to move the mural off Main Street.”
Seeley said that he believed the “Defund the Police” slogan would not have been productive, he said.
“We immediately felt that a message to defund the police without a well-thought-out conversation was not productive,” Seeley said. “The village of Catskill Police Department is the only accredited agency in Greene County. That means we made a commitment over 10 years ago, both financially and directionally, to hold our officers to a documented high standard of conduct, responsibility and community. Everything from training to how we handle evidence is peer-reviewed by an outside accredited organization. It wasn’t easy or cheap, but 100% worth it.”
Conversations about moving resources are possible, Seeley said, but he urged a thoughtful, transparent approach.
“If we want to have a conversation about changes in policy or finances, it needs to be in an open forum and have all stakeholders at the table,” he said. “Moving resources and funding to mental health programs, economic development and other areas can be achieved but we need to work hand in hand with the town and the county. Creating a knee-jerk reaction right now could be dangerous and unwind all the work all of us have put in to improve the village of Catskill and build up all of our community. We had two very powerful and well-attended marches. Let’s keep that momentum going by challenging ourselves to continue a conversation and take appropriate action.”
Johnson announced a 10% budget cut for the Hudson Police Department last week. The cuts will come from equipment and supplies, not personnel, Hudson Police Commissioner Peter Volkmann said.
The 2020-21 budget for the Catskill Police Department is $1.3 million out of the village’s $4.9 million budget, or 26.5% of the overall spending plan. The department has 14 full-time employees and three part-time employees, Lt. Ronald Frascello said.
The village of Catskill has about 4,500 residents, Seeley said.
Catskill Police Chief David Darling could not be reached for comment.