Earlier today, a city contractor removed the Black Lives Matter mural on public property along Mequon Road between Buntrock Avenue and Weston Drive. The mural, which was painted on a retaining wall adjacent to Mequon Road and the Spur 16 mixed-use development, was originally installed on Saturday, June 20, following or during a peaceful protest.
The decision to remove the mural does not in any way reflect my or the city’s position about the message the mural portrayed. The city and I value inclusion, oppose racism and are committed to continually examining and improving our procedures and policies to ensure the city treats all people fairly. The City seeks to treat every individual, business and organization with dignity, fairness, honesty and respect, and to apply all laws, statutes and ordinances equally and consistently, without exception. Laws apply to everyone.
The people who created the mural did not have a permit. City ordinances do not allow for the installation of signage, art or other visual displays without a proper permit.
As I understand the law, and as a couple of attorneys affirmed, if the city permitted the mural to stay, then anyone could post any message or art on that wall – a MAGA logo, a NARAL mural, a pro or anti-gun message, Biden or Trump campaign art – virtually anything. Under the United States Supreme Court’s public forum doctrine, with very limited exceptions, governments cannot pick and choose what content to allow in public spaces once they allow signs or murals or other content-based displays in those spaces.
One of the organizers of the protest suggests that she had approval. She emailed me shortly before the march to see if some concerned artists could use chalk on the sidewalk at Spur 16 to create a mural. I assumed she was asking about the many sidewalks in Spur 16. The protest was going to end in Spur 16. I said that she needed to ask the owner of Spur 16 because it would be on private property. She did, and the owner approved the mural.
However, the mural was not placed on a sidewalk; instead, it was placed on a wall. It was not placed on the Spur 16 site; instead, it was placed on public property. Moreover, if chalk was used, it clearly was some unusual chalk because, despite rain on at least three days (one with over 1.3″), it did not bleed or wash away. The sidewalk and street chalk art at Milwaukee festivals (e.g., Bastille Days) or on home driveways quickly goes away.
The organizer acknowledges that the mural was temporary (even though it had not even begun to wash away after almost three weeks). It was never designed to be there permanently.
Under the circumstances, it was appropriate to remove the mural. Without a change in city ordinances, which would need to be adopted by the common council, Mequon does not allow unregulated signage, art or other visual displays in public places.