December 6, 2021

Cortland considers street art to back the police

Effort follows Black Lives Matter street artwork

Cortland County Seal

A Virgil man has asked the city to paint a blue stripe between the double yellow lines along Greenbush Street in Cortland to honor local police, one of two requests to honor police the city is considering.

The move comes in the wake of rallies and protests, both local and nationwide, against police brutality organized by Black Lives Matter.

“As the political climate has grown even tenser, this idea seemed to become more important and I mentioned it to local officers I personally know and was inspired by the overwhelming reactions of thanks, pride and relief that was shown,” Matt Slowey said this week. “I believe Cortland is a fair and balanced community, and I want to express that.”

Slowey initially requested painting of a blue line in the space between double yellow lines along Greenbush Street, adjacent to the Cortland County Public Safety Building.

“I chose that spot with the intent that any visiting officers, in addition to our local police, would recognize the support of the community,” he said.

Another request was made by Justin Brown, a former Cortland resident for a “Back the Blue” mural at a location to be determined. Brown could not be reached for further comment.

However, Black Lives Matter organizer Apryl Beatty, coordinator of the local BLM organization, said the organization supports having a mural in honor of local law enforcement.

“A mural is a lovely way to recognize the men and women who choose to put on a uniform and serve their community,” she said. “We hope it serves as a visual reminder of the community’s appreciation for them as they continue to ensure the health and safety of Cortland’s diverse population.”

Tobin and the council agreed Aug. 4 to consider the possible mural idea and a ceremony honoring local law enforcement, although details about who would pay the cost and provide the painters have yet to be worked out. The Black Lives Matter painting at Court and Main streets was privately funded and painted by volunteers.

Slowey added that he supported the idea.

Having the term “Back the Blue” for the potential mural, said Slowey, “clearly states our support for the people who risk their lives for the safety of the general public.”

And it comes without the baggage of “Blue Lives Matter,” he said. Blue Lives Matter is a “quick response to Black Lives Matter not entirely thought outright.”

“I feel the term ‘Blue Lives Matter’ can be viewed as thoughtless, shouting a matched response similar to ‘All Lives Matter,’” he said. “It doesn’t allow for the space to listen, hear and think about opposing viewpoints.”

In an email exchange between Tobin and Slowey, Tobin said a mural along with a ceremony honoring local law enforcement could be scheduled for next year.

Alderman Bill Carpenter (D-6th Ward), a retired Cortland city police officer, said he likes the idea.

“I think it stands out,” he said. “We may run into issues with a stripe on Greenbush Street being too long. We could paint ‘Back the Blue’ in just a little spot, just like we did with Black Lives Matter.”

Alderwoman Katy Silliman (D-2nd Ward) said being a police officer can be a thankless job.

“We especially know what our local law enforcement officers go through so any appreciation for them is always welcome,” she said.

Tobin said the council and he support both Black Lives Matter and local law enforcement, as does Slowey.

“It has certainly moved people to think about racism and to look at ways to positively move forward,” Slowey said.

However, Slowey added that the movement also carries ideas that shouldn’t be considered and that police brutality “should be a separate issue to resolve.”

“Ideas like defunding the police or what we heard at the rally a couple of weeks back, are ideas that don’t belong in this or any community,” he said.