Martinez residents won’t have a parade or a fireworks show this Independence Day because of COVID-19 restrictions. But they’ll have the chance to celebrate and endorse freedom in an expressive way Saturday on Court Street.
At public request, the city has authorized a temporary “Black Lives Matter” mural in front of the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse between Main Street and Ward streets. Stencils of the letters have been cut and paint will be furnished, according to organizers’ Instagram postings.
Participants are asked to bring face coverings, hand sanitizer and paint rollers, although some rollers will be available. Participants will need to sign an available waiver before they start painting.
Justin Gomez and Martizians for Black Lives, applied through the city’s Recreation Department for permission for the temporary street banner, said City Manager Eric Figueroa, who was able to expedite city authorization of the public art project’s special permit because it’s temporary. “We don’t know how long the paint will last,” Figueroa said.
Organizers have called the project “a powerful public art installation stating loudly and clearly that Black Lives Matter – joining numerous cities across the country using art to show solidarity with the movement.”
However, they acknowledged the artwork “is still merely words on pavement and we are committed to advocating for real policy change in our community that works towards making Martinez a safer place for our BIPOC (black, Indigenous, People of Color) friends, neighbors and families.”
Words – in the form of a flyer distributed in Martinez, Richmond, Bay Point, Antioch and Pittsburg – have upset residents and resulted in multiple statements, from individual members of the Council, Police Chief Manjit Sappal and Mayor Rob Schroder, who called the flyers “morally offensive… morally repugnant” and “offensive to the community.” Their distribution was called a “hateful, hurtful and offensive act.”
Residents as well as officials also have decried the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis, Minn., police officers as well as the killing of other people of color, acts that have been labeled similarly and which have motivated peaceful marches and protests, including several in Martinez, and occasionally more violent demonstrations elsewhere.
The Black Lives Matter movement, founded in 2013 after the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman who was accused of shooting him, began as a social media effort by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi and has expanded globally.
Organizers, who have promoted the July 4 project on Instagram, also are in discussion about a permanent Black Lives Matter art project, which would undergo review by the Parks, Recreation, Marina and Cultural Commission before presentation to the City Council.
Figueroa said the street painting will resemble the “Black Lives Matter” yellow lettering that has been painted in Washington D.C., Oakland, Richmond and other cities across the country. The city is providing the barriers and other services at no cost, he said.
Painting starts at 9 a.m. Saturday, and the city will have streets blocked off for the safety of the participating public and for the paint to dry.
The city manager said the mural will be a strong public symbol, “a response to the needs of the community.”
And it represents a different type of interactive public event for Martinez, especially since the traditional Independence Day celebrations have been canceled.
“It will be restorative for the community,” Figueroa said.
According to a statement on their Instagram, Martizians for Black Lives mission is “coordinating, amplifying and mobilizing the Martinez community to bring to change to our town in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement.”