As the Mayor and Town Council wrestle with whether or not to issue a permit for a Black Lives Matter street mural, I have been struck by the difficulty that some of our “Leaders” are having making what is, on the face of it, seemingly an easy decision, to unequivocally and openly declare their support for Black Lives, here in Chestertown.
Rather than embracing a message that is resonating WORLDWIDE, and figuring out a way to declare it unabashedly, our Town, once again, cannot seem to get out of their own way, coming up with reason after reason why it cannot be done. Considering that cities and towns all over the country have figured out how to paint their streets, it cannot possibly be that difficult to do, if the WILL to do it is there. Ours is an extraordinarily risk-averse Town; there is not a single, even mildly controversial, decision that is ever made here without asserting the fear of “setting precedent,” fear of the economic impact, however unfounded or remote, or the fear of offending someone, not a single one.
Whether deciding to help a movie theatre open, or painting a street, our Town consistently dithers and handwrings over decisions that most jurisdictions don’t hesitate to make. The fear of precedent, the fear of angering our wealthy, privileged residents, the fear of controversy, and the worry about the economic impact of every single decision, consistently impedes our ability to make progress. And most sadly, in my opinion, those fears prevent us, simply, from doing the right thing.
The Honorable John Lewis, who recently passed away after giving, literally, his ENTIRE life to Civil Rights causes, implored Americans to “get into good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America,” at the 2020 event commemorating the tragic events of Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, when peaceful protesters were beaten by the police for the simple act of crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. John Lewis was beaten so badly that day that he suffered a skull fracture, and the effects of that beating lingered his entire life. Yet, he continued to advocate, march, and speak out for what was right, to make “good trouble,” until the very end of his life.
Representative Lewis’s ENTIRE life was about setting precedent, about making people uncomfortable in their racism, about pushing White people to acknowledge the fullness of the lives of Black people, to make them see that Black Lives mattered. He took incredible risks in order to make progress, realizing that often that is EXACTLY what is required.
Much is being made now of the potential cost to the Town of doing the right thing and approving the permit – having to pay court costs, having to defend lawsuits, and being forced to allow “other” political messages to be displayed if they allow Black Lives Matter to be painted on a Town street. First of all, Black Lives Matter is NOT a political statement, but rather a human rights statement. Second of all, the risk to the Town of a legitimate lawsuit is not only improbable, but it would also give the Town an opportunity to defend having DONE WHAT IS RIGHT, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, at all.
And finally, as Representative Lewis’s life, and sadly, the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Travon Martin, and Eric Garner, along with hundreds of nameless others, demonstrate that change is HARD. Doing the right thing is HARD. I implore the members of the Town Council who oppose the permit for the mural, or who are undecided, to do the right thing, the hard thing, and make some Good Trouble to redeem the soul of our small town. Find a way to paint the mural, on High Street, where it belongs, rather than continuing to find ways not to. Our community, our entire community, deserves nothing less.