January 21, 2022

Messages in Cortland include words of support for BLM, Back the Blue

Sidewalk chalk talk

Photos by Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

LEFT: Chalk artists around veterans memorials at Courthouse Park in Cortland have stressed “Back the Blue” messages. On the other side of the park, other chalk artists stress “Black Lives Matter.” RIGHT:A chalk artist wrote “Black lives have to matter before all lives matter” and other phrases on the north side of Courthouse Park in Cortland.

If you’d taken a walk through Courthouse Park in Cortland over the past week, you would’ve noticed some chalk writing on the sidewalks.

Washed away by rain over the weekend, the chalk spread across sidewalks in the park showed a variety of messages, including “Back the Blue!” and “Black Lives have to matter before All Lives Matter,” referencing two local organizations fighting for different causes.

Back the Blue shows support for local law enforcement, while BLM is looking to end racial injustice and police brutality.

Mayor Brian Tobin said “there’s nothing that prevents people from doing” chalk writing.

“If people are writing with chalk, as long as it’s not vulgar, they can write what they want,” he said.

Melissa Kiser, lead organizer for BLM of Cortland, said the chalk doesn’t impact what BLM is trying to accomplish.

“It’s certainly not helpful,” she said. “But I don’t think it creates more division for the community. The division has been there and will continue.”

According to the Back the Blue of Cortland Facebook page, a small rally and get-together was held Sunday at Courthouse Park off Church Street in the city in support of local law enforcement.

The event came after the Common Council on Sept. 1 voted 2-5 against a request to allow a Back the Blue mural to be painted in front of the city police department on Court Street. The council voted Aug. 4 to allow the mural to be painted.

Based on information from Facebook, the Back the Blue event included a handful of youths using chalk to write out “Back the Blue” and show their support. Later in the week, chalk writing in support of Black Lives Matter appeared, but it is unclear who did it or when it happened.

“I’ve said it before … you can support local law enforcement and you can support people of color,” Tobin said. “I don’t see a problem with showing support. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

Tobin said he has talked with the city Common Council extensively at public meetings the past few months about both organizations, including the painting of the BLM mural in June and the decision not to have the Back the Blue mural painted.

Tobin said he sees the different chalk messages as a clear use of the community’s First Amendment rights and freedom of opinion.

Kiser said despite the chalk writing not negating what BLM stands for, Back the Blue as a whole is a “direct response to Black Lives Matter.”

Back the Blue organizers like Matt Slowey have said in the past the organization is simply showing support for local law enforcement.

“It serves no purpose and I think it doesn’t truly show support for local law enforcement,” Kiser said. “That’s what I believe.”

Representatives from the Back the Blue organization declined to comment.