Controversy over a Black Lives Matter banner affixed to the front of City Hall in the blue collar suburb of Somerville, Massachusetts, continued to rage today as Mayor Joseph Curtatone announced that the sign would stay despite a request from the police union’s president to replace it with a banner that says "All Lives Matter." Curtatone's decision has prompted both outrage and praise in the community.
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“The mayor has clearly chosen a side, and it’s not to support law enforcement,” Somerville Police Employees Association President Michael McGrath told ABC News today.
The Black Lives Matter banner has hung near the entrance of Somerville City Hall since last August after Curtatone met with Black Lives Matter members who were upset at the arrests of protesters after they blocked a major Boston area highway during a Black Lives Matter protest in January, 2015. Those arrested became known as "the Somerville 18." Most of them avoided jail time, instead receiving sentences of 60 hours of community service.
The public controversy about the banner began this week when McGrath sent a letter to Curtatone that said police officers were “deeply troubled” and found it “demoralizing” that the city had allowed the sign to remain hanging in support of this movement “while standing silent over the seemingly daily protest assassinations of innocent police officers around the country."
“The Association is opposed to the misuse of excessive force, including deadly force, as are the well-intentioned members of BLM,” McGrath wrote.
Curtatone released a statement Wednesday that said while he supported his officers, the city will continue to take a stand against what he called “systemic racism in our nation.”
“The City of Somerville stands against all violence and all injustice, which is why a Black Lives Matter banner hangs at City Hall and why a banner in honor of the slain officers is hanging at Somerville Police Headquarters where it would provide the most moral support to our officers—both on my order. Both banners will remain hanging," Curtatone's statement read.
Curtatone's decision was applauded outside of Somerville City Hall today and supported by Somerville Police Chief David Fallon who said that he recognizes that “there is a problem” if anyone in his community feels excluded.
“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," he told reporters.
Somerville resident Buddy Keenan, 60, told ABC News that Curtatone “works for the everyday people. Here we are pretty peaceful…but I can understand how the black people feel they are being killed off in other parts of the country by the police."
But others, like retired police officer Bob DeNapoli, called the Black Lives Matter banner “reprehensible.” DeNapoli was shot six times during a 2011 burglary in nearby Woburn, suffering permanent injuries that forced him off the job.
“Why not hang a banner that reads ‘We All Matter?’" DeNapoli told ABC News.