With words of support three weeks ago for two Black Lives Matter banners in place of a requested Main Street mural, the Catskill Village Board of Trustees reversed its decision Wednesday and said no type of messaging will be allowed on village streets. In politics this is known as lip service.
Nevermind that The Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition requested a mural on Second Street in Hudson, which was painted Monday. Nevermind that In Our Own Voices, an Albany social-justice organization, orchestrated a mural on Lark Street on June 9.
In its June 30 decision the board outlined several reasons it supported banners instead of a mural: Any mural or signage would need to go through an approval process by the planning board; the banner would be more visible and receive more exposure; the banner is mobile and more inclusive; the banner will be more durable than paint on the street, which will fade.
But then came this: The mural would interfere “with the daily vitality of [the] town” and would “have a much more detrimental impact” and the lettering could cause confusion for drivers. It isn’t exactly clear what the board means by “the daily vitality of [the] town,” or what the “detrimental impact” would be or how drivers would suffer “confusion.”
Village President Vincent Seeley read a statement Wednesday outlining the reason the village would not give a green light to any mural or banner: “After a lengthy discussion with our attorney, board members and other consultants, we will not be approving any message to be displayed on any village street,” Seeley said. “If we allow this for one, we would have to allow this for all. By not doing so, we bring up violations of equal protection and the First Amendment.”
The suggestion that a Black Lives Matter banner or mural would open some kind of uncontrollable Pandora’s Box is laughable. The only violation of the First Amendment we see here is the one committed by the village board against the people who believe in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“If we allow this for one, we would have to allow this for all,” Seeley said. Does that include the village itself? Seeley said that is the only exception. That alone should cast serious doubt on the board’s strange logic. Incidentally, the bright and colorful Black Lives Matter logo painted on Second Street in Hudson has not opened the floodgates to every crank who wants to paint a mural or hang a banner. As for “daily vitality,” Hudson is showing new zest and energy to be part of something bigger than itself. And no accidents have been caused by confused drivers.
Yes, a Black Lives Matter logo will fade over time, but so do the white lines of parking spaces and crosswalks Catskill paints each year on its streets.
Black Lives Matter is democracy in action, whether the village board believes it or not. It is community pride eroded by the COVID-19 pandemic. An expressive mural or banner allows people to take ownership of the events that touch their lives. The village board seems unfamiliar with the realities of the community it serves.