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'Black Lives Matter' Banner Leads To Eviction Notice For Bloomington Tenant

Black Lives Matter banner
Ryan Denham
Donavon Burton's Black Lives Matter banner hangs from his apartment balcony on Clobertin Court in Bloomington.

A young father says he faces eviction for refusing to take down a Black Lives Matter banner hanging from his family’s apartment balcony in Bloomington.

Donavon Burton put up his first social justice banner at his Clobertin Court apartment soon after George Floyd’s killing in May. He later replaced it with one that says just “Black Lives Matter.” It is visible on the west side of Veterans Parkway, south of Oakland Avenue.

The problem: His lease doesn’t allow for any “personal belongings” to be left out on the balcony. His landlord, First Site, asked him repeatedly to take down the banner. Burton has declined to do so. On June 29, he was told First Site planned to evict him.

Burton said he feels First Site is selectively enforcing the personal-belongings provision in his lease. A quick check by WGLT on Sunday found many other First Site tenants with personal items on their balconies, many of which are visible from the street. Some have hung hearts in their windows—a symbol of unity during the pandemic. At least one other First Site tenant displayed a smaller Black Lives Matter sign in their window in Normal.

“Everybody else is allowed to have personal items, and they’re just singling out one personal item,” Burton said. “They’re not being consistent.”

Burton lives in the apartment with his fiancé and their baby. Burton is multiracial (African American and Caucasian). Their young son is African American, Caucasian, Latino, and Native American.

Burton, who is a veteran, said Floyd’s killing scared him.

“I cried. I cried like a lot of people,” Burton said. “Like everybody else, I thought of my kid, and myself. So I wanted to try and protest any way I could.”

Burton was instructed on “multiple occasions to remove personal property items from his balcony. Mr. Burton elected against complying and, as a result, was served with an eviction notice,” said First Site Vice President Ulises Napoles.

“First Site supports and individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression. However, First Site has a policy restricting personal items, regardless of content, including banners and flags, from being located on, or hanging from, balconies,” Napoles said. “First Site has an obligation to residents to enforce these policies, for the benefit of all residents.”

He added: “In recent weeks, First Site has reminded all residents of this restriction, and is in the midst of ensuring compliance with this policy.”

Burton said he understands the point that you cannot use someone else’s property to make a political statement.

“But I don’t think that Black Lives Matter is a political statement at all,” he said. “I felt like my rights are being abridged or taken advantage of.”

Burton also claimed someone from First Site spoke to his employer—a local flooring company that does business with First Site—about the banner. While Burton said he’s been told his job is not in jeopardy, he felt they were trying to pressure him to take it down.

Napoles did not respond to a WGLT question about that claim.

Burton received his 10-day “Notice of Termination of Tenancy” on June 29. The notice specifically cites the balcony/patio provisions of his lease. The eviction cannot proceed until the state's eviction moratorium is lifted. That's expected to happen at the end of July.

Adrian Barr is a legal aid attorney who over the last 17 years has spoken to almost 1,000 tenants about legal issues with their landlords.

“While I cannot say how often this policy has been enforced, I have not seen an eviction over a tenant's belongings on their balcony,” said Barr, who is not representing Burton.

The banner remained up as of Sunday.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.