October 27, 2021

‘Back the Blue’ mural delayed

Kevin L. Smith/staff reporter

A car drives Tuesday over the Black Lives Matter mural at Main and Court streets in Cortland. The mural will be removed as the city delays other murals, including a “Back the Blue” mural on Court Street in front of the police station, until April.

The city of Cortland Common Council at Tuesday’s meeting voted, 5-3, to remove the Black Lives Matter mural at Court and Main streets and postpone any further street paintings until next April 1.

Mayor Brian Tobin said the intersection at Main and Court streets will be returned to its natural state later.

The postponement of new murals includes the painting of a Back the Blue mural, which was set to be painted Sunday on Court Street in front of the city police department in support of local law enforcement. City Council voted Aug. 4, 7-0, to allow that mural.

The delay on new murals led to the decision on removing the BLM mural, Tobin said. He added there needs to be consistency if the city is not going to allow street paintings until next year.

Back the Blue organizer William “Bud” Diescher was disappointed by the council’s decision. Diescher criticized Tobin for the resolution and the council for reversing its prior vote, saying the organization has spent a lot of money and time on the project and wondering if the city “was going to reimburse them for all of this.”

“I’m confused as to why the council is backtracking on the vote after everything we went through,” Diescher said. “We followed the same guidelines and protocols as the BLM mural and now it’s suddenly not happening.”

Aldermen Troy Beckwith (D-7th Ward), Thomas Michales (R-8th Ward) and Bill Carpenter (D-6th Ward voted against the move to delay murals. Before the vote Tuesday evening, all three proposed having the Back the Blue mural painted and then removed a month later, along with the BLM mural.

Tobin based the resolution on the recent events unfolding in communities, including the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the protests in Portland, Oregon.

“It’s listening and understanding what’s happening in our nation,” he said. “You can’t just think about what you’re saying, you also have to hear what other people say. We have to do a better job of reading the room.”

Tobin also said if the Back the Blue mural were to occur, he was concerned about the safety of the event.

“It would’ve created potential conflict at the event and had the potential for worse things to happen, like people possibly getting injured and going to the hospital,” he said.

Alderman Bruce Tytler (D-3rd Ward) said if the council still allowed for the Back the Blue mural to be painted, it would have divided the community.

“I understand I voted for the mural to be done at first, but now I’m starting to realize this is the wrong message at the wrong time,” he said. “I support our police, but we can think of other ways to support them.”

“We need to make sure people of color in this community know they matter,” said Alderwoman Katy Silliman (D-2nd Ward).