Just steps away from the White House, local artists and city crew workers took giant rolling paintbrushes to a street in central Washington DC to create a message the city’s African American mayor wanted to send to Donald Trump: “Black Lives Matter”.
The words were emblazoned in huge yellow letters on a piece of tarmac that stretched two full blocks. Just days before, protesters were brutally dispersed by teargas on the street so Trump could have a photo op in front of a church.
Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, went on to name the street Black Lives Matter Plaza, to formally mark the mural, and even erected a new street sign.
In the midst of the protests gripping America, Bowser haspositioned herself as a high-profile opponent of the Republican president who lives on her turf.
“We want to call attention today to making sure our nation is more fair and more just, and that black lives and that black humanity matter in our nation,” Bowser told NBC Washington.
Though it has been home to many Republican presidents, Washington DC has historically elected Democratic African American mayors to lead the city. The city has a population of about 700,000 people; African Americans represent about 46%.
It is not just the provocative paint-job that Bowser has taken a stand on. She has denounced bringing in the military to quash protests in the city, calling on Trump to withdraw the thousands of national guard soldiers and federal law enforcement officers who have descended into the capital, including a unit that wore no identification. The protests in Washington have largely been peaceful, local police say.
“Because of our lack of statehood, the federal government can encroach on our city streets in the name of protecting federal assets,” Bowser told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Thursday.
Bowser got in a spat with Trump on Thursday when she had members of the Utah national guard, who were deployed to Washington for the protests, removed from their hotel downtown. The mayor clarified that members of that guard unit were staying in hotel rooms paid for by the city via a contract, and were meant for national guard members who were deployed for the Covid-19 response.
Trump and Utah senator Mike Lee, a fellow Republican, denounced Bowser for “kicking out” the personnel.
Yet Bowser is holding her ground against the president, even turning the lights on in Black Lives Matter Plaza Friday night so Trump could “dream about #BlackLivesMatter Plaza”, Bowser wrote on Twitter.
Bowser also shut down streets and put in parking restrictions to accommodate huge protests in Washington planned for Saturday.
The city said it estimates anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 protesters coming in for demonstrations it says it assumes will be peaceful. “Let’s all meet here soon,” Bowser tweeted Saturday morning, along with a picture of Black Lives Matter Plaza.