Library of Congress Photo

This letter was sent to the Mayor and Council ahead of tonight’s meeting by Darran and Ben Tilghman, the Kent Pilot was able to obtain a copy.

Dear David, Mayer Cerino, and other members of Town Council.

We write directly to David as his constituents in Ward 1, but wish to share our feelings with the whole Council. We support the proposed street murals to be considered tonight. They send a vital message recognizing the historical and present fact of racial violence and a message of support for the Black community that needs to be affirmed officially by the town.

We understand that there is unanimous support for the message among the councilmembers, but concern among some about procedural questions, specifically the town’s ability to paint on the street, and the potential of 1st Amendment challenges.

ABOUT THE 1ST AMENDMENT: I’m sure you’re all aware of Jim Astrachan’s explanation of government speech [1], in which he emphasizes that the precedent only covers permanent installations. Mr.
Astrachan seems not to be aware that there is in fact_a court precedent extending government speech status to temporary exhibitions_. Pulphus v. Ayers [2] in 2017 recognized a painting (about police violence,
incidentally) included in an exhibition of student work in the Capitol building as government speech, clearly indicating that temporary installations also count. While I’m obviously not a legal scholar, the attached article seems fairly clear on the point.

ABOUT THE STREET: two years ago, soon after we moved here, Darran was in touch with the state highway administration about improving the markings at the Queen St/213 crossing. We suggested introducing an eye-catching artful alternative to the regular crossing lines (as have been installed in other communities). The official who met with us explained that such crossings are not allowed on state-controlled roads, but that signage and markings on town roads are much less restricted and open to the town’s wishes. He was clear that non-standard painting on town roads was not a problem if the local government approved.

It is hard for us to see any reason to vote against this measure. Our only concern about the proposal is that it will be followed by a sense of complacency in the community, as if painting a statement would be enough. Substantive, restorative justice for the legacy of racism is what is most needed. But before there can be reconciliation, we must have truth, and these murals speak the truth in a form that is clear, unambiguous, and meaningful.

Ben &
Darran White Tilghman