A “Black Lives Matter” banner was hung across a street in downtown Amherst, Massachusetts today in an event organizers said featured an apparent first: the endorsement of a local police chief.
More than 100 people turned out at noon for the dedication of the banner that had been hung earlier in the day across South Pleasant Street at the Amherst Common.
The event, which was held in town hall, featured brief speeches from a renowned UMass professor on social justice education and Amherst Chief of Police Scott Livingstone.
" I appreciate everything you've done for us and including my agency and myself in the "Black Lives Matter" banner," said Livingstone to applause from the audience in town hall.
Livingstone said activists had first approached him about the possibility of putting up a banner at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast in January and his response was, “Let’s do it.”
But in an interview, Livingstone admitted some members of the police department were concerned about displaying a banner associated with a movement that grew from well publicized fatal encounters between young black men and the police.
" In parts of the country, there is this feeling between police and the community that it ' us against them', and that is exactly what we did not want this one to become," he said.
Livingstone said he was assured by the local activists, whom he said he has known personally for years, that the display of a “ Black Lives Matter” banner in town would not be used as an occasion to criticize the police.
" Hey, what better community to start this than Amherst," asked Livingstone? "People care. The support we get as a police department has been phenomenal. I am glad I was included."
The display of a “Black Lives Matter” banner at Northampton City Hall, earlier this year, sparked controversy. The city’s police union requested that a banner marking National Peace Officers Memorial Day be raised at city hall in May.
Monday’s dedication in Amherst included a rap artist whose performance mentioned Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others whose deaths helped catapult the Black Lives Matter movement, but there was no direct criticism of law enforcement.
In fact, Barbara Love, UMass Professor Emeritus for Social Justice Education, praised the local police. She said she travels frequently and always feels a need to be “on guard,” but when she is home in Amherst she feels safe.
Gary Tartakov of Amherst said he is proud to live in a place where a “Black Lives Matter” banner is so prominently displayed.
"It sends a good message that people are welcome. Some people think of these signs as something against somebody else. It is not. It is a positive. Everybody is welcome here," said Tartakov.
The banner is expected to be displayed for a month.
The banner is sponsored by the Coming Together anti-racism project.