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Our view: Inspiration outran details, tripping up Atlantic City’s BLM mural
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Our view: Inspiration outran details, tripping up Atlantic City’s BLM mural

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Marty Small Sr. Black Lives Matter

Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. holds up an artistic rendering of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard would look like after the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ are painted on the street Friday during a news conference Wednesday in front of the Civil Rights Garden.

As America intensified its focus on racial justice last summer, many cities proclaimed their support for the Black Lives Matter movement by painting the statement in large letters on a street.

Atlantic City was one of them and did a truly splendid job with its mural. Unfortunately, the giant bold yellow letters covering the entire roadway for a block distracted and confused drivers, so recently City Council had to vote to remove them by repaving the street.

This understandably upset some city officials and residents, given the emotional resonance of Black Lives Matter for the community. But none should feel bad that an oversight during the heartfelt expression of support for racial justice has resulted in a small expense and a need to redo or reimagine the mural.

As national engagement intensified, Atlantic City community organizers and activists led local demonstrations that would include the mural. Some wanted to paint the name on the Boardwalk, which would have violated local law and we suspect state law as well, given its location in the environmentally sensitive beach zone.

Mayor Marty Small Sr. suggested an excellent alternative — painting a block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. In addition to connecting the Black Lives Matter mural with America’s preeminent civil rights leader, the mural would also be in front of the city’s Civil Rights Garden.

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This alternative was welcomed, everyone got behind it, and soon many members of the community were helping finish it at a moving demonstration that included speeches advocating racial justice reforms.

In the following days, however, police noticed some drivers were finding it difficult to navigate the two-way street now that the familiar lines and arrows were obscured. It turned out the mural-painted street no longer complied with state transportation regulations, and police had to close it to traffic.

The city tried to find a way to bring it into compliance while keeping the mural, to no avail. Even removing the mural’s durable road paint wasn’t possible, so with the heavy traffic of the busy summer season approaching, council had to appropriate $36,000 to repave the street to reopen it to drivers.

In every life there are times, hopefully not too many, when a significant and unnecessary expense is incurred. All one can do is analyze it and determine to do better next time. And often what’s found is that the circumstances were unusual enough that one could hardly be faulted for not anticipating the error. That’s the case here.

Now the community will decide when, where and perhaps even whether to create a new mural, or some other fresher public expression. Maybe a modified mural could grace the same block. And people can come together again with a unity of purpose, perhaps during the city’s first designated Black Lives Matter month in September — expected to be a month of celebration and education throughout the community.

A little regret is appropriate that worldly requirements undermined the perfect location and moment for the mural. But nothing can diminish last summer’s outpouring, community cohesion and advocacy for racial justice that it made possible.

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