New York City mayor Bill de Blasio admitted Monday that he did not follow proper permitting procedure when he ordered city workers to paint Black Lives Matter murals in each of the city’s five bureaus, the New York Post reports, potentially putting the city at legal risk and opening the door for more political speech in the form of street art.
On Monday, the mayor claimed that the city has not turned down requests to paint street murals, but said that there is a “process” for applying to create public art.
“We haven’t said ‘no’ to people, we’ve said, ‘If you want to apply, you can apply, but there’s a process,’” De Blasio told reporters.
Several other groups, including a conservative women’s group that is now suing the city of New York, said they applied to create similar murals but were turned down, even though it appears that, legally, the city has opened the streets as a public forum for political speech.
The pro-Trump Women for America First contends, in their complaint, that the Black Lives Matter murals were approved without officials having to navigate the city’s outlined process — and De Blasio admitted as much in his press conference, openly suggesting that the Black Lives Matter mural was so important, it didn’t require a permit.
“That is something that again transcends all normal realities because we are at a moment of history when that had to be said and done, that’s a decision I made,” de Blasio said, per the Post. “But the normal process continues for anyone who wants to apply.”
His aides agreed. The mayor’s press secretary, Bill Neidhardt, told Staten Island news outlet SiLive.com that it was not “open season to paint our streets,” and that Black Lives Matter isn’t a political theme but rather a “moral statement.”
The city’s public transportation commissioner simply said that other groups need to apply for a permit and insisted that the city is able to make unilateral decisions on individual requests: “Anyone can apply through our public art program. As the mayor has said, the city does have discretion as well on painting those projects.”
The argument left civil rights attorneys scratching their heads, however.
“Once the government allows one message, one expression on a public street to be painted, they’re opening the door for other groups or individuals to want the same equal right,” Norman Siegel, “who previously served as the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union,” told SiLive.
“Once you open the door and allow Black Lives Matter murals to be on the streets of New York, you can’t now turn down Blue Lives Matter. That would be a violation of the free speech provision of the Constitution,” Siegel continued in a statement to the Post.
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