Abigail Richards: Businesses cited for BLM signs — censorship?
Almost 17 years ago I was born here, in Grass Valley, at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. I have participated in 4-H, served at the local homeless shelter, and helped care for the animals when the Jones Fire forced community members to evacuate.
In my life, I have seen the love and care this community holds. I have watched us lift one another up and give our all when it mattered.
I know how strong our community can be, how kind we can be, which is why it was heart-breaking to see how our community members turned when the Black Lives Matter movement arose. What broke my heart even more, was to see bias in our town codes leading to POC (people of color) members in our community feeling targeted and isolated.
In June, some of our local downtown businesses chose to put BLM window paintings up, to show their support for our POC in Grass Valley. However, they weren’t up for long.
Soon after the paintings were put up, the city cited them, forcing their removal. Pete’s Pizza was one of the several businesses forced to take down their painting. An article in The Union, “Grass Valley sign ordinance won’t address social issues,” references the letter sent to Pete’s by the city, explaining: “The letter says the display violated city sign standards by exceeding the number of allowed signs and the maximum amount of window coverage, which must not take up more than 15% of the total window area” (Orona).
The same article also says, “According to a letter sent by the city to Pete’s Pizza and Tap House, the city received multiple complaints about their window display which featured the words ’Black Lives Matter’ along with a clenched black fist outlined in white.” (Orona).
At first, I thought nothing of the citation. I thought well, it’s against city code, it was removed, OK. But when I learned the letter from the city mentioned the complaints they received, I began to wonder — are they citing due to complaints or because of city code?
Upon further research I found one place in particular that consistently breaks this code and has yet to receive a citation. With a quick check on Old Town Cafe’s Facebook page, I tuned into their cover photo. The cover photo is an older picture of the restaurant window with more than 15% taken up.
I then went in search of their window. While it was hard to track down, I finally googled “Old Town Cafe Doug LaMalfa.” In the background of the images that appear, you can see their current window. It has white rose outlines painted on it and looks to me like it takes up more than 15% of the window. No citation.
The real question for this is why? Why has Old Town Cafe been allowed to possibly break the rules, but not Pete’s?
I am led to believe our city enforces codes in a biased manner. I’m not saying this is intentional. We all have bias we are unaware of. However, it is something to be considered.
I urge the city to consider that in a time of such uncertainty, we need to show our POC community members love and support. We want them to feel included. We want them to feel heard.
If you are forcing removal of BLM signs, then you should be sure you are forcing removal of every broken code. Otherwise it appears to be an issue of discomfort with the movement rather than an issue of code violation. If that is the case, this must change.
Town codes are not there to isolate members of our community. Town codes are not in place to enforce bias. Town codes are in place to keep things fair from one business to the next. By creating town codes and enforcing them the same all across the board, it allows for some form of order.
However, when such codes aren’t enforced the same for each business, it becomes unjust. As community members, it is our responsibility to hold our City Council accountable. It is crucial we avoid censorship on either side of political and social expression.
I know our community holds so much care and kindness. I know how much love lives within our reach and it’s time we step up and show it.
Abigail Richards is a high school student at the Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning in Nevada City. She lives in Grass Valley.
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