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THE ARGUMENT

Should Somerville keep ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner?

A "Black Lives Matter" banner hangs over the main entrance of City Hall Thursday, July 21, 2016, in Somerville, Mass. Somerville's mayor denied a request from police officers that the banner, which has hung for nearly a year, be removed and replaced with one that says "All Lives Matter." (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

AP Photo/Steven Senne

The "Black Lives Matter" banner hanging over the main entrance to Somerville City Hall.

YES

Andre Green

Ward 4 School Committee member

Andre Green

If I complain to my doctor about pain in my shoulder and he spends the rest of my checkup looking at my knees because “all joints matter,” you can be confident that I will be getting another doctor. Similarly, we don’t expect presidential candidates to pay equal attention to the things in which America excels as they do to our challenges. We expect people to work on things that are broken and pay more attention to them.

That is why it always felt right to me that Somerville and, perhaps more importantly, the Somerville Police Department had their names on the “Black Lives Matter” banner on our City Hall. While no one would argue that the banner has saved a single life, it’s a pleasant gesture acknowledging that for all our progress, true racial equality still escapes our criminal justice system.

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For the last 10 years, our Police Department has in fact been a leader in making that progress, being a true innovator in anti-racism training and meaningful community policing, changes that have been simultaneous with a marked drop in the city’s crime rate.

All of which make the view of some of the city’s police union leaders, as indicated in a recent letter to the mayor, feel like a needless slap in the face. While I share their heartache over the deaths of officers in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and elsewhere, I cannot join the union leaders in making the same mistake they accuse others of making.

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To imply that the actions of the monster in Dallas casts aspersions on the hundreds of thousands of people protesting for justice and equality is no different than to say that the actions of a relative handful of overly aggressive cops should blot out the hundreds of thousands of committed servants of public order working to make their communities better.

I take solace that only a handful of Somerville Police officers appear to be standing with their leaders on this issue, as most of them, and most of Somerville know, that all lives will only matter when Black Lives do.

NO

Michael McGrath

Michael McGrath

Somerville police officer, Somerville Police Employees Association president

The “Black Lives Matter” banner has been displayed prominently on Somerville City Hall for nearly one year. Until recently, the Somerville Police Employees Association had not actively opposed that display. In fact, the SPEA endorses the core value of the mainstream BLM movement as we understand it: All persons are entitled to life and liberty under law regardless of race.

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So why do we now ask that the banner be taken down?

Current events have significantly altered our tolerance of the banner. Recent media coverage of the BLM movement has repeatedly showcased earlier clips of its more radical elements openly chanting “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!” These clips had not previously been viewed by our members. Once they were, the public display of the banner on the face of our City Hall became highly offensive. If there is room within the BLM movement for these chanters, we question how our city can so prominently support the BLM movement without reservations.

A number of fanatics, arguably provoked to action by these chants, began indiscriminately executing innocent police officers on American streets. Although we do not condemn the many good people within the BLM movement for the actions of a few, it is in our view irresponsible for the city to continue to display the banner to the extent it may provoke more attacks on police officers. The banner represents a public safety issue, as members of the public may well become collateral victims of the violence.

To be clear, the SPEA does not excuse the use of excessive force. We condemn it. When incidents of this nature occur, prosecution of the guilty parties should be swift and severe. But examples of such misconduct are extremely rare and do not reflect policing decisions of the overwhelming majority of our officers, who consistently administer the law fairly and impartially.

The banner that the mayor of Somerville refuses to remove is a slap in the face to these hard working men and women of the SPEA and to police officers throughout the United States. It should come down.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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