City of Phoenix Rejects Black Lives Matter Street Mural Proposal — Without Public Discussion

Jacob Tyler Dunn
Homemade "Black Lives Matter" sign from a protest in Phoenix.

The city of Phoenix has rejected a proposal to install a Black Lives Matter street mural in downtown Phoenix. The decision follows a discussion by the City Council held during an executive session on September 8.

The mural was proposed by Gizette Knight, whose Change.org petition calling for a Black Lives Matter street mural has garnered more than 3,000 signatures. Knight drew inspiration from the Black Lives Matter street mural painted in Washington, D.C., in early June.

That mural, with its 35-foot yellow letters, was painted amid protests sparked by George Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis. That same day, Dion Johnson died in Phoenix after being shot by a Department of Public Safety trooper.

Several cities have undertaken discussions about Black Lives Matter street murals. Here in Phoenix, members of the public were precluded from participating in formal discussions.

The mural was withdrawn from a City Council subcommittee meeting that happened on September 2. Instead, it was discussed during the executive session earlier this week. Executive sessions are not open to the public, and those discussions are confidential.

The mural was one of six items on Tuesday’s agenda, which also included “discussion and consultation” regarding several legal cases involving the city of Phoenix. The mural discussion included in-house counsel, as well as representatives of the city manager’s office and street transportation department.

On September 9, City Manager Ed Zuercher sent a letter to Knight, notifying her of the city’s decision regarding her proposal.

“This letter is to inform you that based on existing regulations governing allowable markings in the street, as well as overriding concerns with safety, risks, and federal guidelines for markings on streets, the City of Phoenix cannot accommodate your request,” it read in part.

Knight’s proposal called for incorporating portraits of three civil rights leaders into the Black Lives Matter street mural — Martin Luther King Jr., César Chávez, and John Lewis. Congressman Lewis died on July 17, just weeks after visiting the Black Lives Matter mural in Washington, D.C., which turned out to be his final public appearance.

“This mural is about inclusiveness and unity,” Knight recently told Phoenix New Times. “We want the city of Phoenix to stand in solidarity with the African-American community.”

Even so, not everyone supported her proposal.

Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro opposed the mural. “It’s an empty gesture that the City Council is making,” Miriam A., policy minister for the group told New Times last month. “If you’re gonna make some stupid-ass mural, then defund the police and fund social programs for black communities.”

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association opposed the proposed street mural as well. The association shared its views in a Facebook post on August 25, suggesting that if the Black Lives Matter mural is installed, they should have the right to install “similar portraits of our Fallen Heroes.”

In the meantime, several artists have created murals supporting Black Lives Matter in Phoenix.