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Wilmington approves one-year extension for 'Black Lives Do Matter' mural, forms non-discrimination task-force

 The 'Black Lives Do Matter' art installation adjacent to Jervay Park.
Benjamin Schachtman
The 'Black Lives Do Matter' art installation adjacent to Jervay Park.

Last night, Wilmington City Council voted 5-2 to keep the ‘Black Lives Do Matter’ mural up for another year, although one council member continues to call installation 'divisive.'

The motion to keep the art installation on the northside of the city’s downtown was sponsored by councilman Kevin Spears.

"I sponsored this resolution as a way of saying I appreciate the initiative, but I don't think we're quite done with the mission — we still have some unfinished business. It's been a kind gesture by we just need more. But I think this vote of confidence, from this council, this city, has been in a step in the right direction, for what we want to be, for what this city wants to be," Spears said.

Related: Black Lives Do Matter, City Council Approves Public Art Installation

Spears suggested that the mural might become permanent.

"Hopefully we wouldn't have to, next year or the year after that, revisit it being here — we'll consider this to be a representation of who we are as a city," Spears said.

The display was approved last August — but only after several contentious battles. The word ‘do’ was added to ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a compromise, in an attempt to distinguish general anti-racist sentiment from the specific political organization.

Council members Neil Anderson and Charlie Rivenbark voted against the initial installation and voted against the extension last night. Anderson voiced concerns about the mural's status as 'government speech' — a statement officially endorsed by the city — which echoed his original reasons for voting against it last year.

Rivenbark continued to be a vocal critic of the mural, calling it ‘divisive’ and lamenting that he expects the display to “come back every year.”

"I knew when we passed this last year that would not be the end of it, and I fully expect it to come back every year. It'll never go away. I was against it then and I'm against it tonight," he said. "I don't think it's as uniting as you think it is — I think it's more divisive, it just is."

The one-year extension passed 5-2.

City council also gave formal approval to a non-discrimination ordinance that passed its first reading last month — officials acknowledged that the ordinance does not go as far as some had hoped, and are forming a task force to explore further measures.

Related: Wilmington passes non-discrimination ordinance, advocates ask the city to go further

Councilman Spears — who opposed the ordinance for not going far enough — will be on the task force, according to Mayor Bill Saffo.

You can find the full meeting here.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature.