December 5, 2021

‘Back the Blue’ street mural to be painted in Cortland

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Pedestrians cross Court Street at Church Street in Cortland Monday as traffic waits in front of the Cortland police station, about where a “Back the Blue” mural will be painted Sunday night. The location is a block east of Main and Court streets, where a “Black Lives Matter” mural was painted several weeks ago.

The “Back the Blue” mural will be painted Sunday on Court Street in front of the city of Cortland police department.

Mayor Brian Tobin said this weekend the location of the Cortland County Public Safety Building on Greenbush Street was considered, but the mayor and Back the Blue organizers agreed that in front of City Hall was acceptable.

The mural will be a black box with blue and white lettering in the middle that spells out “Back the Blue.” Painting will begin at 9 p.m. Sunday, and end in the early morning of Labor Day, according to the Back the Blue of Cortland Facebook page. The rain date will be Sept. 7.

The mural is privately funded and will be painted by DND Striping of Preble, owned by Dan White.

Back the Blue organizer Matt Slowey has said the mural is not in response to a recently painted Black Lives Matter mural at Main and Court streets. It is simply to show support for local law enforcement, he said.

Slowey and other members of the Back the Blue organization declined further comment.

However, Tobin said it doesn’t matter what he perceives of the Back the Blue mural, but understands a person of color could see it as a response to the Black Lives Matter mural.

Although he supports local law enforcement, he added, “There are a lot of ways the community can support local law enforcement, unique ways in fact, and I don’t think this mural is it.”

Still, Tobin said the city council voted 7-0 on Aug. 4 to allow the painting of the Back the Blue mural.

“If we’re going to allow city streets to be painted, we have to be consistent in terms of messaging,” Tobin said. “If we entertain one, we have to entertain the others. The only way murals wouldn’t happen is if it’s deemed as hate speech or vulgar.”

Mecke Nagel, organizer for the United Voices of Cortland, said the Back the Blue mural sends mixed messages.

“I wonder if this mural is actually backing local law enforcement or it is really against Black Lives Matter,” she said.

Nagel, a professor at SUNY Cortland who teaches philosophy and Africana studies, said the mural could especially be seen as sending the wrong message for students of color who are from out of town.

“Students will begin to wonder if they’re welcomed here in this community,” she said.

City police in the past have shown support for the local Black Lives Matter organization, including being present for the painting of the mural in June.

Tobin said the Back the Blue mural now “puts police in a poor position.”

“They’re being brought into a discussion of what they support more: Black Lives Matter and people of color, or Back the Blue and local law enforcement,” he said.