WASHINGTON – Washington D.C.’s mayor renamed a street near the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza” Friday and directed city crews to paint a huge mural to honor protesters who have turned out in the nation’s capital to demand an end to police brutality.
Muralists painted “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in roughly 50-foot-wide yellow letters on a section of 16th Street that sits just in front of Lafayette Park, the site of huge protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was pinned to the ground with a white police officer’s knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis.
The area — near historic St. John’s Church — is where protesters were forcibly removed on Monday evening just before Trump walked through Lafayette Park to pose in front of the church for photographs while holding a Bible.
The sudden clearing of the park for what critics blasted as a “photo op” involved the use of smoke canisters, pepper spray and other riot control actions against largely peaceful demonstrators.
The White House security perimeter has expanded since then, with a tall fence erected around most of the White House compound.
The painting of the mural was at the direction of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, according to her chief of staff, who said the mayor wanted to make it “abundantly clear” the street belonged to the city.
Bowser chief of staff John Falcicchio wrote on Twitter, “There was a dispute this week about whose street this week about whose street this is. Mayor Bowser wanted to make it abundantly clear that this is DC’s street and to honor demonstrators who peacefully protested on Monday evening.”
Municipal dump trucks blocked off the street, preventing cars from passing through as people painted the street-width letters, and NBC Washington reported the painters were part of a city public works crew.
A Washington, D.C. flag was painted at the end of the mural, on the side closest to the White House.
Not all groups applauded the move. BlackLivesMatter DC, a chapter of the BLM Global Network, called it “a performative distraction from real policy changes” and a way “to appease white liberals while ignoring our demands.”
Bowser, a Democrat, has criticized the federal government’s handling of the protests in the city. She visited the protests on Wednesday and said Thursday she would “push back” on the federal presence in the city as dozens of federal law enforcement units and the National Guard deployed.
She called the forcible removal of protesters ahead of Trump’s visit to a church near the protest site Monday “shameful” and has slammed Trump’s response.
Later Friday, Bowser released a letter she sent to the Trump administration on June 4 asking for the “extraordinary” federal law enforcement and military presence to be withdrawn from the city.
Bowser wrote she was concerned the unidentified federal personnel on the streets of the city “pose both safety and national security risks” by “inflaming demonstrators” and “adding to the grievances” of mostly peaceful protesters.
Another reporter at the site noted the arrival of portable toilets at the protest site, although it was not immediately clear if the toilets were delivered by the city.
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Contributing: Bart Jansen