Black Lives Matter banner to stay in Somerville City Hall
SOMERVILLE — Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone Thursday said he will not take down a Black Lives Matter banner on the front of City Hall, dismissing a request by the city’s police union to replace the sign with one that reads All Lives Matter.
The president of the Somerville Police Employees Association sent a letter to Curtatone this week saying the banner was “demoralizing” in light of recent violence against police officers. The city’s chief of police, however, has expressed support for the banner, which was hung last August by Curtatone in collaboration with the Black Lives Matter chapter in neighboring Cambridge.
The letter comes after several fatal police-involved shootings nationwide, which were followed by attacks on police in Dallas, which left five officers dead, and Baton Rouge, which left three dead.
The mayor noted in a statement Thursday that a banner in honor of the slain Dallas officers is hung “at Somerville Police Headquarters, where it would provide the most moral support to our officers.”
“Both banners will remain hanging. I’ve made very clear to our officers that we should be thankful for — and reinforce — what we have here in Somerville: a safer community thanks to the highest quality policing by a force dedicated to community policing, de-escalation, proper use of force, and antibias awareness,” Curtatone said in a statement.
Curtatone could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Speaking at Somerville City Hall Thursday morning, Police Chief David Fallon expressed sympathy with the Black Lives Matter movement, and said it is not his responsibility to decide whether fears about violence “are real or perceived.”
“When I hear the hashtag or see the banner Black Lives Matter, it just brings to my mind personally that we have to be inclusive,” Fallon said. “If there’s a small fraction of our community . . . that doesn’t feel like they’re effective members of or welcome in the community, then there’s a problem.”
In the letter to Curtatone, dated Tuesday, police union president Michael McGrath said the Black Lives Matter banner “unfairly suggests culpability by [officers] in the deaths at the center of the protest movement.”
Protesters have said efforts to draw attention to the fatal shootings of black people by white police officers are intended to emphasize the lives of those they believe have been treated as though they matter less.
Black Lives Matter representatives from Boston and Cambridge did not respond to multiple requests for comment Thursday.
The many Black Lives Matter-themed protests that have taken place around the nation — including several in the Boston area — have been largely peaceful.
McGrath’s letter cited the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, saying the actions of the officers involved were proven to be justified because they were acquitted in court.
“The vast majority of police officers across this country are tasked with shielding, protecting, and assisting elements of the protest movement that loathe them, spit on them, intentionally injure them, and wish death upon them,” the letter said.
Fallon said Thursday it’s his job to support the city’s initiatives, including the Black Lives Matter banner. He said the city, Police Department, and Somerville residents need to be on the same page in order to solve societal issues.
“If it’s the Somerville Police Department in one camp, the city in one camp, and the citizens of Somerville in another camp, there’s no issue we can address,” he said.
He repeatedly said the union and police should not get involved in politics. He said he would have preferred a face-to-face meeting to discuss the banner.
“If you want to talk national issues about what’s going on, there needs to be more dialogue, not an open letter to the mayor,” said Fallon.