Cops protest city hall Black Lives Matter banner

Philip Marcelo
Associated Press

Somerville, Mass. — Police officers in Massachusetts are upset the mayor of this largely white, historically working class Boston suburb is refusing to remove a Black Lives Matter banner that has hung over City Hall for nearly a year.

The Somerville Police Employees Association and other police unions say they’ll peacefully rally Thursday evening outside Somerville City Hall to demand that Mayor Joseph Curtatone remove the sign.

The police union’s president, Michael McGrath, says his officers support the “core goal” of the Black Lives Matter movement, but they believe the current banner sends an “exclusionary message” and is disrespectful to officers.

“In the face of the continuing assassination of innocent police officers across the country … it is irresponsible of the city to publicly declare support for the lives of one sector of our population to the exclusion of others,” McGrath said in a statement this week.

Curtatone, a Democrat who is the 50-year-old son of Italian immigrants and the mayor since 2004, has argued that standing up for black and minority residents and supporting police officers aren’t “competing interests.” He noted the city has also hung a banner over police headquarters honoring the officers slain in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Both of those banners are hanging for the same reason: Too many people have died in a cycle of violence that needs to be stopped,” he said in a statement. “It is a violence that tests us in every community, demanding we either come together or break apart.”

Curtatone hung the 4-foot-by-12-foot banner over City Hall’s main entrance in August 2015 at the request of a local Black Lives Matter chapter. At the time, he said it was meant to recognize that “structural racism” exists in society and stressed it was not a criticism of his police department.

Curtatone has since said he’ll also seek to equip officers with body cameras, something some civil rights activists have called for in the wake of the police-involved killings. He also pledged to push the police department and other city agencies to conduct anti-racism training programs for their employees.

The mayor had been supportive of other actions by Black Lives Matter activists, including a January 2015 protest in which a number of them chained themselves to concrete barrels on the main highway leading into Boston from Somerville, snarling morning rush hour traffic.

Last week, the city police union called on the mayor to replace the banner with one that states “All Lives Matter,” a phrase that some civil rights activists complain diminishes their concerns about the killings of black men and boys at the hands of police in recent years.

In response, Somerville Police Chief David Fallon chided the union for getting involved in the debate. He said he supports keeping the banner over City Hall.

Somerville is a city of over 80,000 residents that borders Boston and Cambridge and home to most of Tufts University’s campus. It is about 74 percent white, 11 percent Latino, 9 percent Asian and 7 percent black, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.