SCHENECTADY – Calling Black Lives Matter “the official name of a radical Marxist organization,” the City of Schenectady Republican Committee is demanding the BLM mural in front of City Hall be removed.
Leaders of local BLM movements are calling the request and the language used dangerous. Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy did not return multiple requests for comment Friday.
The mural has been in place since June 2020.
“What is happening in the city of Schenectady is a microcosm of what’s happening across the state and across the nation. The local Republican Committee continues to follow the GOP mass communication strategy of fear mongering and hate – a distraction from the everyday needs of the people,” Jamaica Miles, a Schenectady-based advocate, wrote on behalf of the organization All of Us. “The Republicans’ call for the removal of the Black Lives Matter mural in front of City Hall. On the same day, the U.S Supreme Court hands down a devastating decision that wipes away 50 years of protection of women’s rights, which disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and those living in poverty the hardest. Both are a call to deny the rights of marginalized groups.”
The city’s Republicans are asking the mayor to remove the mural or “provide equal space and funding for a patriotic political message,” according to a press release announcing the demand.
That release says a FOIL request shows the mural cost $13,000 for design, labor and materials.
The Republicans met on June 20 and voted unanimously to make this call, according to the release. That was the same day the federal holiday of Juneteenth was celebrated. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas, and read a declaration announcing that all the slaves who continued to be held in bondage were free, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Juneteenth was signed into law as a federal holiday last year by President Joe Biden.
The Schenectady Republicans’ release about the mural says “BLM believes in guaranteed basic income, free healthcare, schooling and reparations. They support a ‘global liberation movement’ to overturn ‘U.S. Imperialism and Capitalism,’” the release states. “Their views are nakedly political, and they do not represent the views of the majority of city residents. The mural should be removed immediately, or in the alternative ‘God Bless America’ should be painted in a similarly prominent spot in the same size lettering in red, white and blue.”
Lexis Figuereo, leader of Saratoga Black Lives Matter, rejected the characterization of the movement.
“Who are they speaking of? I know they can’t be speaking of the activists in our region, who have been feeding the community and bringing community members together throughout the Capital Region while fighting for equity, inclusivity and justice,” Figuereo said.
He was concerned by the Schenectady Republicans’ language.
“This is the same fear mongering that fueled the Buffalo shooter to go through with his plan and massacre innocent Black people in a grocery store,” Figuereo said. “The GOP is doing what they do best – twisting narratives to suit their agenda while harming Black and brown people.”
City Republican Committee Chairman Matt Nelligan said Friday that the Schenectady Republicans stand by the strong language in the news release.
“What’s really sad to me is that while the city administration is claiming to be moderate, Mayor McCarthy capitulates to (BLM) and spends taxpayer dollars on stuff like this,” Nelligan said.
In Albany, a Black Lives Matter mural on Lark Street was vandalized last summer. In September, Albany Police arrested Ian Rawlinson, 43, of Albany, and charged him with fourth-degree criminal mischief as a hate crime for allegedly spray-painting over the mural with white letters reading “KKK.”
Miles said anti-BLM sentiments echo the same dynamic seen during the Civil Rights era.
“We saw then the very same cycle that we are seeing now: everyday people organized in the struggle for civil and human rights and a backlash response of racial resentment, fear, social control, criminalization and demonization of specific groups of people and the leaders associated with them,” Miles said.
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.