Somerville police union asks mayor to remove ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner from City Hall

Mayor Joseph Curtatone said the banner is staying up.

A Black Lives Matter banner at Somerville City Hall in 2016
A "Black Lives Matter" sign has hung over Somerville City Hall for nearly a year. –FILE/Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe

Somerville police officers are asking that the city’s mayor remove a banner supporting the “Black Lives Matter” movement from City Hall and replace it with one proclaiming “All Lives Matter.”

In a Tuesday letter addressed to Mayor Joseph Curtatone, the Somerville Police Employee’s Association, the bargaining unit for 90-95 patrol officers, called the city’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the display of the banner “deeply” troubling.

“It is as inconceivable to us as it is demoralizing that our City would propagate its support for this movement while standing silent over the seemingly daily protest assassinations of innocent police officers around the country,” the association wrote.

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Citing what they saw as “fringe elements” of the movement, officers in the association argued that the activists have at times provoked violence against police around the nation, including the recent shooting in Dallas that killed five officers.

“The point is that these incidents have incited more than protests; they have incited some within the protest movement to use violence against police officers who had nothing to do with the shootings of black men, and have done so before all of the facts of each case were known,” the letter said.

While the association acknowledged that black lives, as well as those of other minorities, matter just as much as white lives, it argued that Somerville’s open support for the movement could imply that the department thinks otherwise.

“At the same time, we strongly object to a public banner sponsored by the City that [implicitly] paints police officers as the killers of innocent citizens of color when there is no evidence whatsoever that the police officers in the City are in anyway using their police power in a discriminatory of unlawful way,” the letter said.

Instead, the officers asked that the banner be replaced with one that reads “All Lives Matter,” a move they believe would have the mayor standing in solidarity with the police department.

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“The vast majority of police officers across this country are tasked with shielding, protecting, and assisting elements of the protest movement that loath them, spit on them, intentionally injure them and wish death upon them,” the association wrote. “Nonetheless, it is generally true that officers perform these very tasks with professionalism, honor, integrity, courage, and without hesitation.”

The letter didn’t sway Curtatone, who said he doesn’t plan to remove the banner.

“My unwavering support for our police officers does not and cannot preempt our commitment to addressing systemic racism in our nation,” Curtatone said in a statement to Boston.com. “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 anti-bias awareness.”

Curtatone’s response was first reported by ABC News reporter Michele McPhee.

In addition to the “Black Lives Matter” banner at City Hall, Curtatone said that he also ordered a banner honoring slain law enforcement to hang above the city’s police headquarters, and that both will remain in place.

“Peaceful protest to end violence and injustice stands at the core of our nation’s values and our democracy and we will continue our peaceful protest via the banner,” he said. “Violence is never justified, and that is the message that both of our banners— for Black Lives Matter and for the slain officers—are intended to make.”

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Read the union’s full letter here.