Tulsa City Council Delays Action On Black Lives Matter Mural

Wednesday, August 19th 2020, 6:15 pm
By: Emory Bryan

TULSA, Okla. -

The Tulsa City Council did not make a decision Wednesday whether to allow the Black Lives Matter mural in Greenwood to stay on the street.

The Tulsa City Council discussed the “Black Lives Matter” sign painted on Greenwood Avenue, without advancing any proposal to keep it there or remove it. They’ll continue their discussion Wednesday, August 26, with lawyers advising them on how it might be possible to allow the painting, and the issues that arise from leaving it intact.

Mayor G.T. Bynum delayed removing it while the council considers proposals surrounding it. There is a plan, councilors were told, to resurface the street next spring in advance of the Centennial of the Race Massacre. The head of Street Maintenance, Terry Ball, gave councilors an estimate of $20,000 to sandblast the painting from the street and replace striping. Resurfacing would remove it at no extra cost.

Activists painted the mural during the night, before Juneteenth and a campaign rally for President Trump. After it was defaced with a line of blue paint, activists painted it again, without intervention by the City.

City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper presented councilors with a list of 70 cities that have BLM street paintings, and said none have removed them so far. She suggested the law allowed for murals designated as “government speech” which would allow government to prohibit other messages.

“Cities have done it historically. This is not brand new” said Hall-Harper. She said one example governments exercising that ability was the Confederate statues placed throughout the South after the Civil War.

Councilor Kara Joy McKee asked councilors to consider the cost of removing it, the lost business during a street closure, and likely publicity that would come if Tulsa was the first city to remove it.

“We could just before the Centennial of the Race Massacre, erase the words “Black Lives Matter” and bring international attention as the only city to erase the words "Black Lives Matter" or we could accept this gift," McKee said. "This is not the time we would want to be first."

Councilor Phil Lakin said he didn’t want to start permitting street paintings at all.

“I get very wary of putting the council in the position of deciding which messages are good and bad, and which are right and which are wrong" Lakin said.

Councilor McKee said she had developed suggestions for a proposed ordinance, but those proposals will be discussed next week by Council.