Black lives matter.
That’s the message of a new sign set to be installed at McClatchy Park, located in one of Sacramento’s historically Black neighborhoods. The sign stretches about 17 feet and painted on it are the names of 347 Black people who were killed by police.
The sign could become a semi-permanent installation at the corner of 33rd Street and 5th Avenue, near the park’s entrance. Sacramento’s park and community enrichment commission decided Thursday night to send a recommendation to the City Council for approval.
“Black Lives Matter is such a controversial subject, and I don’t know why it is,” said Lavinia Grace Phillips, president of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association, which worked with the city and artist to get the sign installed.
The artist, a white Sacramento resident named Zach Trowbridge, created the sign last summer amid nationwide protests calling for justice for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, who were killed by police in Louisville and Minneapolis, respectively.
“That happened and I felt like I needed to do something,” Trowbridge told CapRadio. “I felt like the skills I’ve developed as a hobby woodworker was a way I could try to contribute to this movement and do something meaningful without trying to take over a conversation or drown out a voice that needs to be heard over my white voice.”
The sign had been a fixture at most of the summer’s racial justice demonstrations in downtown Sacramento. In August, the sign was installed at Curtis Park. But it only lasted about a month, as it was vandalized and torn down.
“They’re trying to make it official so that if anyone decides they want to come hurt the sign or they want to protest the sign, the city has decided this is what we’re going to do based on statements from the neighbors,” Grace Phillips of the neighborhood association said.
Trowbridge repaired the sign. Now he’s hoping it can find a more permanent home at McClatchy Park, a location of which Oak Park residents resoundingly approved. He also said he hopes the city council officially sanctioning the sign will offer it some protection.
“We’re not calling it a piece of art, because then someone can make a ‘white lives matter’ sign or a ‘Black lives don’t matter’ sign and call it art, and the city has to allow it because it’s art,” Trowbridge explained.
He said the process to get the sign approved would mean the city “is saying this isn’t the neighborhood’s speech — Zach Trowbridge’s speech. The entity that is Sacramento is saying the city believes this. That’s incredibly powerful.”
Mario Lara, director of the City’s Youth, Parks and Community Enrichment Programs agreed, saying the commission was going through the process of designating the sign as “government speech” to address Trowbridge’s concerns.
“This is a unique request,” Lara said during the Commission’s meeting on Thursday. “Because of the sensitivity of the issue, and the concern about, how do we have a process so that it doesn’t open up a forum where anyone can place anything, this is the process that’s appropriate for it to go through.”
Lara added that the commission took into consideration things like safety when considering the placement of the sign, as well as making sure that the sign is well-maintained. Trowbridge would have to care for and maintain the sign for as long as it is installed.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg on Tuesday tweeted his support of the sign being placed in Oak Park.
“I wholeheartedly support installing this sign in McClatchy Park, where it can serve as both a community affirmation and an ongoing challenge to all of us in the City of Sacramento,” he wrote.
Tanya Faison of Black Lives Matter Sacramento said the sign was not made in conjunction with her organization, but she believed it would send an important message to install it in Oak Park.
“Oak Park has been heavily gentrified and over-policed,” Faison said. “So it’s a great reminder to the community that lives there, and the unhoused community that lives there due to gentrification, that Black lives do matter.”
She added that while she does worry about the sign being vandalized again, she doesn’t believe that should stop it from going up.
Grace Phillips of the neighborhood association said she hopes that the sign can bring some sense of healing and understanding to those who pass by.
“The neighborhood has changed so much in the last few years, that it’s almost as if the plight of Black folks has gone unheard,” Grace Phillips said. “I hope that it sways those who might have more control over those than we do to be able to say ‘Hey, I drove past that Black Lives Matter sign at the park, that’s exactly how I need to frame my day.’”
If the sign is approved, it could stand in McClatchy Park for six months, with the opportunity to renew that time period. If the city decides to vote against the installation, the commission could also recommend painting “Black Lives Matter” on the park’s basketball court, or adding the statement in metal letters to the park’s gateway arch.
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