Mayor Bill de Blasio appears to not have gone through the city’s application process for street art when he commissioned “Black Lives Matter” street murals across the city but is asking groups wishing to paint messages of their own on city streets to do so.
De Blasio previously indicated he would not allow Blue Lives Matter and other groups to paint similar messages on city streets.
And City Hall also confirmed it would specifically not allow pro-police group Blue Lives Matter to paint their message near the NYPD headquarters.
However, de Blasio walked back his decision Monday, claiming he never said “no to people,” only that there is a process for applying.
“What I decided to do with the Black Lives Matter murals … this came out of a meeting at Gracie Mansion weeks ago with community leaders and activists who said this would be such an important thing for this city to declare officially, that is something again, transcends all normal realities because we are in a moment of history where this had to be said and done,” de Blasio told reporters during a press conference with reporters Monday.
“That’s a decision I made, but the normal process continues for anyone who wants to apply,” he said.
Last month, de Blasio announced the city would paint “Black Lives Matter” street murals in every borough and rename streets to match the message on the heels of nationwide racial injustice protests following the death of George Floyd.
But his decision opened him up to scrutiny when he prevented others from painting messages of their own on city streets. His administration said groups would need to submit a Department of Transportation application in order for their public art request to be considered.
Civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel, who previously served as the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the Advance/SiLive.com that once the government allows one message on a public street “they’re opening the door for other groups or individuals to want the same equal right.”
Siegel also pointed out that it becomes problematic if the mayor did not submit an application to paint his Black Lives Matter street murals but is asking other groups to apply.
“If you have a position that no expression [can be] on the public streets, that’s one thing, but the government can’t pick and choose which messages, which expression they approve of and which they reject based on the content of the message,” Siegel said.
De Blasio said he would not allow police advocacy group Blue Lives Matter to paint their own message near the NYPD headquarters, prompting the group to threaten to sue the city to allow them to do so.
A conservative women’s group has sued the city for blocking them from painting a mural of their slogan — “Engaging, Inspiring and Empowering Women to Make a Difference!” the New York Post reported.
And the city recently sent Staten Island artist Scott LoBaido a cease and desist letter asking him to remove a bright blue line he painted along a divider on Hylan Boulevard outside of the 122nd precinct or face getting hit with summonses or “legal actions.”
LoBaido painted the line without city approval, arguing “the mayor never got a permit to do that street art, so I guess it’s fair game.”
City Hall and DOT had repeatedly avoided elaborating on its criteria for approving public street art and whether the mayor submitted an application before he proceeded with his street murals
Asked to elaborate on its approval process Monday, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was vague about the department’s criteria.
“Anyone can apply through our public art program … but I think as the mayor has said the city does have discretion … on those projects,” Trottenberg said.
Officials In Redwood City, California ran into a similar problem when they allowed a local resident to paint “Black Lives Matter” on a downtown street.
The city decided to wash the street mural away after being contacted by a local real estate attorney who asked to paint “MAGA 2020” on a street, KPIX reported.
The attorney argued that the street was now a public forum.
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