Lately, when Durango City Council holds its regular meetings they are conducted remotely. Public comment is taken at the beginning of the meeting from residents and anyone else who cares to comment via an audio-only connection. Commenters customarily state their names and addresses first.
On Tuesday, the meeting began with a string of commenters who gave their names and pointedly declined to give their addresses; one said it was because she felt unsafe. All of these commenters said more or less the same thing: They wanted council to allow a Black Lives Matter memorial, consisting of handwritten signs (“Durango, are you anti-racist?”) and some baskets of flowers dying of thirst, to remain where it had been, at the southwest corner of Buckley Park, until the city’s Parks and Recreation and Code Enforcement departments removed it Aug. 24.
They wanted council to allow the memorial to remain until Nov. 3. And they said this was in no way political.
That does not pass the red-face test. To say BLM is not, in the fast-waning days of the 2020 presidential election, a political issue is merely propaganda.
The fate of Black Americans at the hands of police in Minneapolis; St. Louis; and Kenosha, Wisconsin; among other places, including Aurora and Colorado Springs; ought to be a matter of urgent concern for all Americans, whether or not they identify with the BLM movement – and that is sort of the point.
The president of the United States, running for re-election, has decided to essentially run against BLM, the better to associate Democrats, including his rival, Joe Biden, with violent protesters who have attached themselves to anti-police demonstrations in various cities, including, conspicuously, in Portland, Oregon, where an anti-BLM protester recently was killed. If this were not political, why would local BLM adherents only be concerned with having a shrine in a public park until the election?
“I would like to support Black Lives Matter,” Councilor Chris Bettin said at the meeting, speaking in favor of giving a special event permit for the BLM shrine until the election.
Assistant City Manager Kevin Hall pointed out that he had already heard from “a pro-life group that would also like to have a shrine in the park, if BLM is allowed.”
Councilors said they were aware this might mean accommodating other views; views they did not endorse, and that might be unpleasant for people to see while they were eating lunch in the park, as Mayor Dean Brookie delicately observed.
Pleasant is in the eye of the beholder.
What it also could mean is granting a permit for a Trump 2020 shrine until the election.
It is a fact of today’s America that it also could mean allowing a Blue Lives Matter shrine – even one that celebrated officers accused in killings decried by Black Lives Matter.
It could also mean permitting a shrine to the Confederacy, at this rate, or to neo-Nazis, or to any other installation that does not explicitly incite violence. To say swastikas or the visage of Jefferson Davis are implicitly violent in America in 2020 may be good enough for us – but perhaps not for government, let alone Durango City Council.
By not allowing political shrines in a public park and making no exceptions, council avoided that. Now, by a 5-0 vote to issue a special event permit to the BLM shrine until the election, council has shown its support of BLM, as it intended; and possibly opened wide the door to all sorts of other political speech that many Durangoans and visitors will find repulsive. How repulsive?
You need only read the news.