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A week after West St. Paul made national headlines for forcing the removal of a Black Lives Matter mural, the city’s former mayor put up a Blue Lives Matter mural. The mural is the words ‘Blue Lives Matter’ painted on a fence at the corner of Ottawa and Moreland, home to former Mayor David Meisinger.
West St. Paul city code clearly states that fences cannot have words or pictures and no signs can be painted or attached to fences.
This new provocative mural comes as West St. Paul struggles to balance city code with support for the existing Black Lives Matter mural and the Black community in the midst of the Derek Chauvin trial and yet another police killing in the Twin Cities with Daunte Wright.
Ongoing Mural Debate
The original Black Lives Matter mural went up last September at the corner of Butler and Smith at the home of Ryan Weyandt—three blocks away from Meisinger. Weyandt’s mural avoided city code enforcement due to state law that preempted city code during the election. After the election, the city informed Weyandt that his mural would need to come down. The city had a similar issue with anti-abortion signs across town that went up during the election but had to come down afterward.
With winter making it difficult to paint over the mural, West St. Paul gave Weyandt until April 15 to remove the mural. About a week before the deadline Weyandt posted to social media that he would be painting the mural black to comply with city code. Outcry ensued, attracting national media attention.
West St. Paul City Council had a heated debate about the mural at the April 12 meeting. An emergency declaration in response to the police killing of Wright cut the meeting short, and Council ultimately gave city staff direction to stay any fines for Weyandt’s mural until the Council could hear public comment and have adequate time to discuss the issue.
Now City Council will have to deal with two murals.
Former Elected Official
Meisinger served on West St. Paul’s City Council from 1996-2000, as mayor from 2001-2002, then again on City Council from 2003-2004, and most recently as mayor from 2015-2016. Meisinger lost his mayoral reelection in 2016 and then lost two straight City Council campaigns in 2018 and 2020.
During the 2020 campaign, Meisinger falsely accused other candidates of attacking the police while also falsely implying West St. Paul had seen increased crime. The West St. Paul Police Department reported no significant increase in crime in 2020.
[Per a request from David Meisinger in 2018 threatening to report me to the police for harassment if I ever contact him again, I did not ask Meisinger for a comment on this story.]
April 17, 2021 Update: Responses
Here’s current Council Member John Justen offering his perspective on if the two murals will be enforced consistently:
“This fence, like the other fence will be judged to be non-compliant. The fence ordinance has not been changed, so both remain non-compliant. The argument for staying the fine for the first fence was that due to the curfew, we could not have a standard council meeting which included citizen input into the fence/sign ordinance. As I believe you know, we legally are not allowed to take a position or state our intentions until we receive all public commentary, so none of us can say what we are going to do now, under statute. Also, as the current ordinance ignores content, the content of this fence also must not be considered. To do otherwise would be an inconsistent application of the ordinance.”John Justen
Here’s Weyandt’s response:
“I respect his right to do this. We did something very comparable in support of front line workers for several months.”Ryan Weyandt
My Opinion: Bring on Public Art
After breaking the story of the Black Lives Matter mural coming down, I added my opinion to the piece endorsing public art and supporting a change in the ordinance. I want to do the same thing here.
This doesn’t change my opinion at all.
Free expression is an all or nothing endeavor. Either we allow it all or we allow nothing. You can’t decide based on the positivity of the message or the beauty of the art (or the lack thereof).
If we allow Black Lives Matter, we have to allow Blue Lives Matter.
And there’s nothing new about this. We already have Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter yard signs throughout the city.
What I argued last time is that ‘all or nothing’ can be used as a boogeyman to scare people away from considering the ‘all’ approach with hateful examples that support the KKK or Nazis or pick your worst nightmare. But Blue Lives Matter isn’t that. People may disagree with it and it’s obvious appropriation, but it’s a message we already see around town.
In my mind, this new development doesn’t change anything. Both fences violate the ordinance and need to be addressed. But I still think we need to take another look at that ordinance and consider some changes to allow for more public art and free expression. That will mean signs or murals I don’t necessarily support, and I’m OK with that.
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(Photo: Used by permission from a local student.)