On Friday, Bowser renamed a street in front of the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and had the slogan painted in giant letters leading toward Lafayette Square, which has become the epicenter in the District for protests over police brutality. Saturday night’s update by Black Lives Matter D.C. now follows soon after, 10 feet from the original street art.
Makia Green, a core organizer for Black Lives Matter D.C., said Saturday the “defund the police” display by the organization is a “direct response” to the mural from the mayor. Black Lives Matter D.C. tweeted the original mural commissioned by the city “is a performative distraction from real policy changes,” adding the mayor has consistently been on the wrong side of “BLMDC” history.
Bowser’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Hauling buckets of paint and brushes on long poles, the group mopped their statement into the street in about 20 minutes on Saturday night while a large crowd gathered to watch. The District’s flag was converted into an “equals” sign, thereby co-opting the city’s own work to make the mural read: “Black Lives Matter = Defund the police.”
“This is ours. This is all ours. This city is ours,” one organizer shouted. “These streets? Ours.”
Sunday morning, staff from the city’s department of public works repainted the D.C. flag from the original mural but did not touch the “defund the police” message.
Candace R., who declined to give her last name, was standing just behind the yellow caution tape surrounding the project Saturday night as members of Black Lives Matter D.C. were putting the finishing touches on their pointed response.
“Defund … the … police,” Candace read out loud. “That’s good, that’s necessary.”
“People died and the mayor and the president are arguing about how to police the city,” she added. “It’s missing the point.”
A female African American organizer strolled around in the middle of the circle, wielding a loudspeaker. “Earlier this week, they had tear gas, they had riot gear … and now,” she looked up at the crowd near Candace, smiling, “Look, it’s just us, family.”
Candace nodded. “The police have been militarized over years,” she said. Before the paint even dried, some started to dance to the sound of “Before I Let Go.” When the dancing stopped, Black Lives Matter members began calling black people to stand on the mural.
“Come into the circle,” said one protester. “Black people only.”
Standing in the street after painting, three friends said they were glad the message had been painted in addition to Bowser’s mural.
“Nobody is trying to take away all the money, said Rohena Innocent, 18. “But we’re talking about investing it into the community.”
Her friend Dominique Frederick, 19, said Bowser’s display was “a temporary tattoo” done despite the mayor’s budget increasing funding this year for the police department.
“It’s great marketing,” Innocent said.
“But it’s not enough,” they both said in unison.
Sofia Martinez, a 21-year-old D.C. native, said the importance of decreasing funding for the police and increasing funding for minority communities was especially important given how much the District has gentrified in recent years.
“This used to be chocolate city,” she said, repeating an often used line from the late Mayor Marion Barry.
Neil Turner stood on the recently painted first “D” in “Defund the police,” towering over most of the protesters.
As others rallied in the middle of the new addition to the mayor’s mural, Turner wasn’t sure how to feel about it.
“Oh snap,” he said, gazing down at the letter under his feet. “I like that.”
But the Fairfax native, who is black, said he wasn’t sure if he agreed with it.
“We gotta have control,” he said of the need for some policing. “But where does it stop? All these people in power, who controls them?”
Turner thought Bowser had done a good job. Asked whether the police should be defunded, he replied: “If their intention is to help us out, to help the community out, then of course not.”
Turner, who just graduated from Old Dominion University, said he was surprised how much the atmosphere had changed from last week, when he first came to the protests.
“It’s so crazy how fast things change,” he said. “Tear gas? I didn’t want to deal with that.”
After the painting was done, Monique Fegans, 31, led a smaller group in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is known as the black national anthem.
“I just was like we have got to sing the black national anthem,” said Fegans, who came from Newark, Del. Fegans said she was impressed by the energy in the District and by the protesters’ message.
“The laws need to change,” she said.
The Washington Post’s Jessica Stahl contributed to this report.