My statement to the Shutesbury Select Board regarding the Black Lives Matter banner on Town Hall

(With updates added on September 30)

I request that the Black Lives Matter banner now hanging from Shutesbury Town Hall be taken down. I do so for three reasons.

First, Black Lives Matter is not just a three-word sentence affirming the obvious message that Black lives indeed matter. Black Lives Matter is also a movement and an organization. The BLM movement espouses the contentious and, I believe false and destructive narrative that African-Americans are under existential threat from police violence. The data do not show this; quite the contrary. Please read the voluminous reporting on this from Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute or consult the research of Harvard economist Roland Fryer to see alternative fact-based views on this issue. BLM’s anti-police message is not supported by most Black Americans. According to a recent Gallup Panel survey, over 80% of Black Americans are either satisfied with the level of policing in their communities or want more. There are legitimate concerns about policing and the Black community that need to be addressed. But there is no evidence that a “never-ending list of innocent people of color continue to be murdered” by the police, as Michelle Obama claimed during the DNC. None.

BLM’s emboldening demonization of the police (see the #DefundThePolice campaign on their website), influencing city government-mandated reduction in policing in several localities, has helped lead to an increase in crime in many American cities, including homicide, almost all of it involving Black victims. They have also led to an increase in attacks on law enforcement officials, including a five-fold increase in Chicago in 2020 over previous years. To put a face on this, please look up a recent video from a female African-American principal of a mostly-minority inner-city Minneapolis high school, decrying the violence and lawlessness rampant in her city, and offering firm support for the disempowered and demoralized city police. The video was made the day after the shooting death of a Minneapolis high school senior, the third city student killed during street violence over a period of five weeks. Their lives mattered, too. No comment from Black Lives Matter, by the way.

Two of the three founders of BLM are avowed trained Marxists who advocate the dismantling of all American systems, using violence if necessary. Until it was quietly removed a couple of weeks ago, the BLM website featured a “What We Believe” page that advocated, among other things, the “disruption of the Western-prescribed nuclear family.” If you go back a few years, their beliefs also included opposition to Israel as an apartheid state committing genocide against the Palestinians.

Black Lives Matter activists and supporters have used intimidation, harassment, looting, threats, property destruction and physical violence to make their point. While it would be wrong to attribute all of this to the entire movement, the BLM leadership has rarely, if ever, condemned it. On the contrary, I can provide several official BLM statements of support for illegal action, threatening more if they don’t get their way. This constant mayhem has eroded national support for Black Lives Matter protests, now down to 39% from 54% in June.

Second, Black Lives Matter consists of a national organization and several regional affiliates. Each has a web site on which they promote organized events and actions, offer biographies of their leadership, and solicit donations of funds. The national organization is affiliated with a Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation which raises funds to support organizing work. The BLM national organization is also affiliated with a 501c3 non-profit called TIDES, which supports BLM’s distribution of grant funds.

The Black Lives Matter banner affixed to Shutesbury Town Hall, in my admittedly non-expert opinion, could be construed as an in-kind contribution to and a solicitation of funds for Black Lives Matter and its affiliates. It also could be seen as tacit support for the Biden/Harris campaign, which has promulgated the views of Black Lives Matter. Perhaps the select board, if it has not already done so, should consult with the town’s legal counsel as to the legality and advisability of the banner. If necessary, I will investigate legal action.

(UPDATE: I spoke on September 29 with an attorney with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance. He told me that the banner is not in violation of Massachusetts campaign law.)

Third, it should not be the function of the select board to vote to display a political message on public property such as Shutesbury Town Hall. The function of our governments, whether federal, state or local, is to protect the citizens’ right to think as they please. It is not to tell the citizens what to think. Even if the message is supported by a majority of townspeople, it is an inappropriate statement not supported by the entire community. You might as well hang a banner stating “Planned Parenthood” or “Make America Great Again.”

Reviewing the minutes of the June 9, 2020 select board meeting when a citizen proposed the banner to the board during public comment, I note that the board went against its usual policy of not circling back to issues raised during public comment, but instead proceeded to a vote on the banner during the same meeting. The customary procedure, as I understand it, would be to include the banner issue as an agenda item in a future meeting, thereby giving citizens to ability to look ahead to the agenda and decide whether to participate in discussion. I don’t know whether this is in violation of town bylaws or merely unethical. Either way, it is outrageous.

(UPDATE: On September 29, I discovered the following two passages from the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law Guide (.pdf here), p. 10, under the heading “What information must meeting notices contain?”

Meeting notices must be posted in a legible, easily understandable format, contain the date, time, and place of the meeting; and list all topics that the chair reasonably anticipates, 48 hours in advance, will be discussed at the meeting. The list of topics must be sufficiently specific to reasonably inform the public of the issues to be discussed at the meeting.

If a discussion topic is proposed after a meeting notice is posted, and it was not reasonably anticipated by the chair more than 48 hours before the meeting, the public body should update its posting to provide the public with as much notice as possible of what subjects will be discussed during the meeting. Although a public body may consider a topic that was not listed in the meeting notice if it was not anticipated, the Attorney General strongly encourages public bodies to postpone discussion and action on topics that are controversial or may be of particular interest to the public if the topic was not listed in the meeting notice

Thus, the vote on June 9 was not in violation of Open Meeting Law. It did, however, go against the guidance of the Attorney General.)

I am disappointed that the select board did not perform due diligence in researching the full nature of Black Lives Matter – the message, the movement and the organization — before voting to hang the banner. I fault the select board for justifying the banner with their personal opinions without respecting the diversity of views among Shutesbury residents. And I resent the select board using town property and town funds to support a movement and organization that I and, I suspect, many other Shutesbury residents oppose. The banner is highly divisive, despite its inspiring slogan, and it should be taken down. Thank you.

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