Wilmington City Council members at odds over proposed Black Lives Matter mural

A request to install a Black Lives Matter art installation has been submitted to the City of...
A request to install a Black Lives Matter art installation has been submitted to the City of Wilmington.(City of Wilmington)
Updated: Jul. 20, 2020 at 6:22 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A proposed public art installation led to a heated exchange between members of the Wilmington City Council Monday.

At their agenda briefing, members discussed a resolution they will vote on Tuesday night regarding authorization for a public art installation in support of Black Lives Matter.

The resolution would allow for a three-dimensional, metal art piece near Jervay park, and would open conversation about a potential pedestrian plaza to be used for public art and expression.

While some of the discussion was about the size and lifespan of the Black Lives Matter piece, the discussion erupted into an argument between Council Member Charlie Rivenbark and Council Member Kevin Spears.

Rivenbark, who said explicitly he will be voting against the resolution at Tuesday’s meeting, said he believes a mural saying “Black Lives Matter” is “racist,” and suggested if the city was to erect any kind of statement of the sort, it should say “All Lives Matter.”

“I think this is probably the most racist and divisive thing that I’ve seen come before us,” he said.

He also said he felt individuals, specifically mentioning white children, would be “hurt” by the installation.

“You’ve got Hispanics, we have, we have a melting pot of people here in this town, and I can imagine a small white child seeing that like, ‘What about white lives?’”

Spears, along with artist Janna Robertson who would be installing the art piece, responded to Rivenbark by saying all lives do not matter until society acknowledges Black lives matter and addresses the issue of systemic racism, especially when it comes to law enforcement.

“We’re not seeing the disregard for other lives throughout the nation, but we are seeing the disregard for Black Lives throughout the nation,” Spears said.

Spears specifically referenced the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by law enforcement, which ignited international protests.

“We’re trying to shine a light on saying hey, black people are citizens too, we want to live too...Charlie if you were caught with a fake $20 bill like Mr. Floyd was, do you think you would end up dying? He didn’t have a weapon. He didn’t do anything, to anybody. He had a fake $20 bill and he died because of it.”

After some back and forth, Rivenbark said “I’ll see you all tomorrow night,” indicating he was leaving the virtual meeting, but did not log off the call.

The artist said the group is open to discussing an alternative phrase, such as “End Racism Now.”

[Watch the full video here (Discussion begins at approximately 41:00]

Mayor Pro-Tem Margaret Haynes expressed her concerns, which she said were more about the long-term public forum piece, saying she worries some may try to post or erect controversial or offensive speech, and the city would not be able to control it.

City Attorney John Joye explained if the city does install a public forum, they cannot police the content of the speech unless it is obscene, pursuant to the First Amendment.

Spears concluded his thoughts by saying the city should treat the issue of systemic racism with the same concern as the potential downsides of a public art piece.

Council will vote on the resolution at their meeting Tuesday, which begins at 6:30. The meeting is open to the public at the Wilmington Convention Center, but with strict social distancing guidelines. It can also be streamed online at wilmingtonnc.gov.

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