Greenburgh Officials Debate ‘Controversial’ Black Lives Matter Project

As Greenburgh undertakes a multitiered project to support the Black Lives Matter movement, officials debated whether the town should make strides to condemn all levels of hate and bigotry.

Councilman Ken Jones, who is overseeing a subcommittee that is spearheading this effort, presented the Town Board last week with a mockup of a sign supporting Black Lives Matter that would be placed at four entry points to the town and at Town Hall. The sign, which is the first phase of the three-part project, states “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter.”

The proposed placard is slated to be placed under the “Welcome to Greenburgh” sign, with the design in all black with white lettering with the word “Until” in a reverse contrast.

While officials were pleased with the placard, Town Clerk Judith Belville, who is also on the subcommittee, suggested the sign be changed to “All Lives Will Matter When Black Lives Matter,” asserting it would be a more positive message. She said the word “Can’t” is a negative word.

Town Supervisor Paul Feiner indicated he would be in support of changing the sign or keeping the messages as is, but proposed the subcommittee discuss including a disclaimer in tiny letters on the placard that stresses that the town objects to all forms of hate. He added that he doesn’t want anyone to misconstrue the intent of the sign.

“Right now, you have a significant racism problem among the Asian community and there’s been violence there,” Feiner said at the Apr. 6 Work Session meeting. “I feel that Black Lives Matter is extremely important, and the mural is going to highlight the importance of that, but I don’t want people to incorrectly misunderstand the sign.”

Feiner explained the importance of promoting how the town encourages diversity and inclusion and opposes hatred.

Board members both opposed the idea to change the messaging on the sign and Feiner’s suggestion to provide a disclaimer. Councilman Francis Sheehan, who is also on the subcommittee, said the current wording on the sign is meant to be educational and is a factually correct statement.

Jones said altering the sign to denounce all types of hate in smaller letters that people can’t read as they drive by would be more offensive than helpful. He explained that regardless of intent, there will be people who misconstrue the purpose of the sign because Black Lives Matter is a divisive subject.

“It’s going to be misconstrued. Some people are going to misconstrue it, some people don’t agree with it. It’s going to be controversial,” Jones said. “I don’t think we can escape the controversy; the question is what are we comfortable with as controversy.”

Councilwoman Gina Jackson agreed that people won’t always agree with the messaging behind Black Lives Matter despite what is placed on the sign. Jones said he thinks both phrases in contention have merit but is against placing small letters beneath it with another message.

“We should stand by what we say. We don’t have to have a disclaimer on the bottom to say, ‘just in case.’ If this is how we feel we should stand by what we say,” Jackson said. “Once you start placing little disclaimers you really just take the meaning behind that and at this day people understand what that means.”

Sheehan also stressed the urgency to address and support Black Lives Matter.

The town is currently embarking on a three-part project to support Black Lives Matter, with the first phase being signage.

The second phase is a banner project. The idea is to have five different banners hung on five designated buildings throughout the town, with students from local school districts creating the posters. The Arts and Culture Committee will also sponsor an essay contest for the students to participate in while they create the banners.

The essay will have students answer a specific question relating to the Black Lives Matter movement. Officials said the current options is to have the students explain the meaning behind why society uses the phrase Black Lives Matter.

The last phase of the project is a mural that would feature on both sides of the overpass where I-287 stretches over Manhattan Avenue.  Jones previously said it would illustrate Black history from 1619 to today, with the mural also highlighting Greenburgh residents and their accomplishments.

Furthermore, rocks leading up to the mural would be painted red, black and green, with certain ones labeled with the names of Black individuals who have been killed by police officers. Some rocks would be intentionally left blank in the event other fatal incidents occur.

A QR code, which is a barcode your phone can scan, would also be listed on the mural that will lead to a website with historical information and a description of certain imagines depicted in the painting. No design has currently been submitted to the town for consideration.

The town will also collaborate with the Greenburgh Central School District, youths from the Theodore D. Young Community Center and the housing authority in creating the project. Local artist Madison Hood has been tapped to design the mural.

Officials added another “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter” sign could be included near the mural. Jones said he would take board members ideas and bring it back to the subcommittee for further discussion.

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