City Council considers Black Lives Matter mural in Champaign

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Photo Courtesy of David Dee Delgado/Getty Images/TNS

A Black Lives Matter mural that was painted on Fifth Avenue in New York City is seen directly in front of Trump Tower on July 13.

By Samantha Boyle, Managing Editor for Reporting

A Black Lives Matter mural may be painted on Chester Street in Champaign next to the Champaign City Building if the Champaign City Council approves the action.

The idea was brought up at the council’s Oct. 23 meeting.

If the council approves, they would have to give direction on the location, method and the source of funds for the project. The request for the mural also asks that the City of Champaign would also contract with a Black artist to install the mural, which coincides with the City’s Champaign Diversity Advancement Program.

Other than an artist painting the mural, the Council could also consider a letter mural created by Public Works Operations crews using preformed paint or thermoplastic letters. White and yellow letters are available up to 10-feet tall for $100 per letter. For the crew to use stencils to paint the mural, it would cost $2,000 for stencils and $500 for 10 gallons of paint.

In addition, depending on if an artist is hired to install the mural or if it will be done by City staff will determine the cost of installation and ongoing maintenance of it in the future. The City would also have to weigh in potential safety hazards from paint or pavement making materials.

The funding would come from the Public Works Traffic & Lighting budget and a budget request would be submitted during the fall budget session.

“In recent months, multiple cities in the United States and abroad have painted the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the public right of way. Some of these murals have been created by the government, while others have been created by protestors, community volunteers or public arts groups,” a memo to City Council said in a summary of Black Lives Matter.

Some of these murals have been the source of First Amendment lawsuits alleging free speech violations “and other claims.”

Part of the First Amendment restricts the government from regulating private speech. However, the government is permitted to regulate some speech depending on the forum where the speech occurs.

The courts recognize public forums, designated forums and non-public forums.

Earlier this year, lawsuits were filed in New York City and Washington D.C. alleging violations of the First Amendment related to Black Lives Matter murals and other related messages in public spaces.

However, the “government speech doctrine” entitles a governmental entity to choose which point of view it expresses. Governments are not required to endorse both sides of a message nor do they have to speak in favor of both sides. However, the line between government speech and private speech is pretty thin.

The memo to the council explained that if the City were to choose an artist to paint the mural, it would be an exercise of government free speech, but if the City subsidized an artist to create the mural in a public space, but didn’t give any direction of the message or subject matter, this could potentially be argued as private speech.

Members of the public will be able to provide input on this at the Oct. 27 Study Session for the City Council.

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