WASHINGTON – District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser found a new way to send a message to President Donald Trump Friday morning, authorizing the city’s Department of Public Works to paint “Black Lives Matter” in massive yellow letters on 16th Street near the White House.
— Muriel Bowser #StayHomeDC (@MurielBowser) June 5, 2020
The section of 16th street in front of the White House is now officially “Black Lives Matter Plaza”. pic.twitter.com/bbJgAYE35b
— Mayor Muriel Bowser #StayHomeDC (@MayorBowser) June 5, 2020
Local artists joined city work crews to begin painting about 4 a.m., said Rose Jaffe, who was among dozens still working on the project at 9:30 a.m.
The art will take up two blocks, affirming the cause of thousands who have demonstrated in the nation’s capital and across the country to protest the killing in police custody of George Floyd, an unarmed black man from Minneapolis.
Trump has urged a crackdown on protesters, outraged by sporadic cases of looting in some cities, and has marshaled a huge influx of federal police and National Guard units to the capital against the mayor’s wishes.
Several days ago, he falsely accused Bowser, a Democrat, on Twitter of refusing to allow D.C. police to assist in crowd control in Lafayette Square.
Bah-Pna Dahane, an immigrant from originally from Chad, said he was finishing up a run near the White House Friday morning when he saw the street painting effort and decided to pitch in.
Dahane, 45, said he wanted to volunteer because he has been a victim of police brutality in New York and knows that change won’t happen if people don’t act.
“I said, ‘you know what, let’s do it, let’s make it happen,’ ” he said as he painted.
City workers included a D.C. flag at the end of the display in front of St. John’s Church, close to where federal law enforcement entered city streets while responding to demonstrations earlier this week despite objections from the mayor and police chief.
“There was a dispute this week about whose street it is, and Mayor Bowser wanted to make it abundantly clear whose street it is and honor the peaceful demonstrators who assembled Monday night,” said John Falcicchio, the mayor’s chief of staff.
The Black Lives Matter DC group reacted to the street painting with criticism of the mayor, saying she should decrease the budget for the Metropolitan Police Department and “invest in the community.”
The mayor’s proposed budget would increase funding for traditional policing while cutting spending on programs to reduce violence through community-based intervention initiatives.
“This is performative and a distraction from her active counter organizing to our demands.” the group said on Twitter. “Black Lives Matter means Defund the police.”
Jaffe, one of the local artists who was painting Friday morning, said she, too, would like Bowser to cut funding for the police department. She said she also would like to see officers express more support for protests, which began a week ago in the District.
“I’m conflicted about doing it. It’s about wanting to reclaim the streets, but I also know that it is a little bit of a photo op,” said Jaffe, a Washington native. “Where is the action behind this?”
In a letter Thursday, Bowser formally asked President Trump to “withdraw all extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence from Washington, D.C.”
Demonstrations on both Wednesday and Thursday night were largely peaceful, and Bowser has lifted a curfew she had imposed earlier in the week. The federal and military presence on the streets had shrunk to almost nothing.
“The deployment of federal law enforcement personnel and equipment are inflaming demonstrators and adding to the grievances of those who, by and large, are peacefully protesting for change and for reforms to the racist and broken systems that are killing Black Americans,” Bowser wrote in the letter.
The mayor criticized unidentified federal law enforcement officials for patrolling the streets of her city and operating outside “established chains of commands.”
“The multiplicity of forces can breed dangerous confusion, such as when helicopters are used in a war-like tactic to frighten and disperse peaceful protestors,” wrote Bowser. “My view is that law enforcement should be in place to protect the rights of American citizens, not restrict them.”