The colorful mural, adorned with hearts, a portrait of a local activist and the words “Black Lives Matter,” stands out at a busy intersection in West St. Paul, a community nestled against the Twin Cities. It is a cherished symbol for many Black residents, a site of reflection and pride.
But the city says it must go.
“I am totally saddened,” said Kimetha Johnson, the activist depicted on the 75-foot fence, who last year became the city’s first Black mayoral candidate. “It’s an awesome piece of art. The message is needed here.”
West St. Paul, where about 5 percent of the 20,000 residents are Black, says that the mural violates two sections of city code — about fences and prohibited signs — and that its specific content has nothing to do with the violations.
The commotion over the mural comes at a pivotal moment in the Twin Cities area, which is anxiously awaiting a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer who is charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, who was Black.
spilled into the streets of Minneapolis, St. Paul and West St. Paul after Mr. Floyd’s death, demanding justice night after night in protests that reverberated around the country. About 200 National Guard members are stationed in the area while Mr. Chauvin’s trial unfolds; witnesses will return to the stand on Monday, the start of the third week of testimony.
Ryan Weyandt, who owns the contested fence and the house it borders, received a notice from West St. Paul officials in November informing him that he was violating the city’s sign ordinance.
He reached an agreement to keep the mural, which was created with spray paints and acrylics last summer, in place until April 15. But the city denied an extension beyond Thursday and told reporters Mr. Weyandt could face fines of up to $2,000 for every 10 additional days the mural remains.
Mr. Weyandt, who is white, said he had asked local museums if they might want to preserve the entire fence in their collections. If none accept, he will probably end up painting over the mural, an outcome he considers highly disappointing.
“We don’t want to take it down before the trial is over,” he said. “We want that message to stay.”
Dan Nowicki, a spokesman for the city, said in an email that officials had received multiple complaints about the “noncompliant fence,” which breaches a part of city code that says fences must be one uniform color and feature no pictures or lettering. In its original notice to Mr. Weyandt, the city cited a code that bans signs “painted, attached or in any other manner affixed to fences, roofs, trees, rocks or other similar natural surfaces.”
received about 35 percent of the vote in last year’s mayoral election, said it was especially bad timing that the city was demanding that the mural be painted over in the middle of Mr. Chauvin’s trial.
She said she liked to bring her 7-year-old granddaughter to the fence because of its powerful signal to Black girls.
“She literally loves to read out loud, ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Ms. Johnson said, adding, “For her, it’s seeing that the city has some type of pride about her.”
On Saturday morning, Guillermo Maldonado Pérez, an assistant principal at a St. Paul school, and his 7-year-old daughter were admiring the mural. A petition in support of the painted message was circulating on Facebook, he said, but the request had seemed mostly to engage people from outside of the area.