Black Lives Matter mural in Salt Lake City may lead to a lawsuit

Sep 11, 2020, 8:03 PM
Black Lives Matter mural in Salt Lake City may lead to a lawsuit...
(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Mayor of Salt Lake City may find herself in court.  A city resident says he plans to sue her for discrimination after the city commissioned a Black Lives Matter mural on Washington Square. 

City officials issued a statement to KSL, saying they “commissioned the Black Lives Matter mural through a mural contest program to support and memorialize the national movement to eliminate systemic racism.”  Different artwork fills each letter of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and it covers most of the pavement on the east side of the city offices.

(A portion of the Black Lives Matter mural painted on Washington Square. Credit: Paul Nelson)

Prospective plaintiff Aaron Johnson says it isn’t the phrase “Black Lives Matter” at issue. 

Johnson says, “The slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ is true.  Black lives do matter.  Your life matters.  My life matters.  All life matters, but, there’s a disconnect, politically, between the slogan and the movement, itself.”

He accusing Mayor Erin Mendenhall of not allowing other groups to have the same right to express opposing political points, like “Blue Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter.”  In his eyes, he says the mayor was giving favorable treatment to BLM as a group, and he calls it an example of invidious discrimination.

“You’re not representing everyone equally when you do that.  You can’t represent one group over another group, especially as a government official,” he says.  “You’re denying that equality to other people.  That’s what she has done.”

Johnson hasn’t officially filed the suit, yet.  However, he has sent a letter of intent to Mendenhall and her staff saying he plans on suing.  He tells KSL he’s hoping more people will join him to turn it into a class-action lawsuit.  He’s calling for the mayor to allow an alternative message to be painted on the grounds.  Plus, he’s calling for big changes on a city-owned building near 300 West and 900 South, where the faces of people killed by police have been painted.

“Why don’t we put up the faces of the people who have been victimized by crime in the city?” he asks.

He’s also suggesting that the criminal histories of people memorialized on that building be posted near their faces.  It’s an idea that’s offensive to people like Siolaa Nau.

She asks, “Why does it matter?  Why does everyone have to know?  They’re not here.  If they were here, they would be able to tell their story.”

(Siolaa Nau, center, and family as they prepare to plant flowers in a box under Siale Angilau’s picture. Credit: Paul Nelson)

Nau is the younger sister of Siale Angilau, who was shot and killed inside the federal courthouse in 2014.  Officials with the FBI say Angilau tried to attack a witness who was testifying, and was shot in the chest by members of the U.S. Marshals Service.

To others, Angilau may be remembered as a gang member.  However, to Nau, he’s remembered as a big brother, someone she loves and someone she wants to grieve for.  She believes police need better training to de-escalate violent situations.

“If they’re going to be a cop, you would think that they would have training to know how to take someone down without having to use force,” Nau says.

City officials say they didn’t commission the faces being painted on that building.  They were put there spontaneously as a response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  However, after they were painted, the city accepted them to “memorialize the national movement and outpouring of grief.”

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Black Lives Matter mural in Salt Lake City may lead to a lawsuit