Despite granting permission for the temporary street art and even providing the paint for the July 4 project, officials in the Northern California city ordered the painting be cleared from its prime location late last week, KPIX reported.
“Staff is concerned about public safety issues that may arise from painting murals on its public streets, which could result in driver confusion and traffic accidents,” city spokeswoman Jennifer Yamaguma told The Washington Post in a statement early Wednesday. “Thus, the existing mural has been removed from Broadway and no further art installation will be authorized on the City’s streets.”
But supporters of the artwork, who have expressed outrage over its removal, point to another factor they say actually prompted the city to take action: one resident’s request to paint “MAGA 2020” along the same stretch of street.
“They made the decision to take Black Lives Matter off the street at the first person that proposed the MAGA 2020,” Redwood City resident Dan Pease, who spearheaded the effort behind the original art piece, told KRON-TV.
The request came from local attorney Maria Rutenburg, who told The Post late Tuesday that she emailed city officials just hours after the Black Lives Matter painting had been completed asking if she could paint the truncated version of President Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan nearby.
“I’m a Trump supporter and the slogan is important to me,” said Rutenburg, who is white, arguing that once the words “Black Lives Matter” were painted on the street, it effectively became “a public forum.”
“Everybody has a chance of saying whatever they feel like,” she added. “My speech is just as important as BLM.”
Rutenburg said she immediately heard back from city officials noting they were considering her proposal. Just over a week later, they denied her request over concerns that the painting would be a “traffic hazard,” she said.
Not long after Rutenburg’s proposal was turned down, Pease was informed by city officials of plans to wash away his street art, he told the San Mateo Daily Journal.
“I’m not upset the piece is being taken down because it’s just words on the street. It doesn’t represent real change,” said Pease, who is white. “What is upsetting and frustrating is someone who disagrees with the thought of Black Lives Matter has the audacity to come out with … a comparable counter punch to Black Lives Matter. That to me is disgusting.”
In the statement to The Post, Yamaguma explained the temporary painting had been “allowed as an extension of City efforts to preserve art related to the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in Redwood City,” and was also intended to complement a recently commissioned chalk mural in same area.
“The painting was informally processed, and intended for a short duration,” the statement said.
While Pease told KPIX over the weekend that he was aware of the artwork’s limited life span, he said he was still disappointed.
“Because we were using the poster board paint that would eventually deteriorate over time, my understanding from them was that the mural would last as long as the paint lasted,” he said.
The news that the city would be erasing the giant message was swiftly met with outcry. People flooded a public Facebook group for Redwood City residents with critical posts blasting the city and Rutenburg. Meanwhile, an online petition to protest the erasure of the painting was also launched.
“Such negation of the community’s voice is itself an example of white supremacy — privileging one white voice over the community’s,” the petition read. As of early Wednesday, it had received nearly 900 signatures.
In response to the barrage of criticism targeting her, Rutenburg defended herself on social media, penning lengthy Facebook posts insisting she did not intend for the existing art to be removed. Rutenburg noted in one post that she and her family have weathered death threats in the aftermath of the painting being washed away.
“I’d like to make it clear now: this is not the outcome I wanted, nor one that I requested,” she recently wrote in the community Facebook group. “I made my request because I saw that the courthouse square was being used as a public forum, and, as a Redwood City resident, wanted to participate."
She added: “I did not ask for the mural’s removal, nor did I threaten legal action.”
On Tuesday, Rutenburg stressed in an email to The Post that her request to paint “MAGA 2020” had been an attempt to ensure “free and open political discussion for all sides” is allowed.
“I think we can all agree that black lives matter, and that equality is important. These are really fundamental truths,” she wrote. “But what’s happening is now is one loud political group intimidating the cities into speaking their own private agenda just because cities are afraid of being called racist if they do not give in on the spot.”
Pease, however, disagreed.
“Black Lives Matter is not a political statement,” he told KRON-TV. “Black Lives Matter is a human rights issue. Black Lives Matter is a call; it’s a message, it’s a symbol."