“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.
For days, Bowser (D) has strongly objected to the escalation of federal law enforcement and the military response to protests and unrest in the nation’s capital.
Trump has urged a crackdown on demonstrators, outraged by sporadic cases of looting during protests in Washington and some other cities. He and Attorney General William P. Barr marshaled a huge influx of federal police and National Guard units to the capital against Bowser’s wishes.
On Friday, 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 forcefully cleared the area of largely peaceful protesters Monday night just before Trump walked over and posed for news cameras, a Bible in his hand.
The art takes up two blocks on 16th Street NW, between K and H streets, an iconic promenade directly north of the White House. Local artist Rose Jaffe said she and others joined city work crews to paint the giant slogan, starting before dawn.
Shortly after 11 a.m., Bowser watched silently as a city worker hung a sign at the corner of 16th and H streets that said “Black Lives Matter Plz NW.”
Onlookers cheered, and the song “Rise Up” by Andra Day played from speakers.
“In America, you can peacefully assemble,” Bowser said in brief remarks to the crowd.
Bah-Pna Dahane, 45, said he was finishing up a run near the White House on Friday morning when he saw the street-painting effort and decided to pitch in. He said he had been a victim of brutal police tactics in New York and knows that change will not 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.
The group Black Lives Matter DC reacted to the street painting with criticism of the mayor, saying she should decrease the budget for the D.C. police and “invest in the community.”
Bowser’s proposed budget increases funding for traditional policing while cutting spending on programs to reduce violence through community-based intervention initiatives.
“This is a performative distraction from real policy changes,” the group said on Twitter, adding, “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 D.C. native. “Where is the action behind this?”
The D.C. Council has put forth several bills to overhaul policing, including a prohibition on using tear gas and a requirement to disclose body-camera footage and the name of an officer within three days of a deadly-force incident.
Bowser declined to comment on the proposals Friday, saying she had not had a chance to review them. She also acknowledged her tense relationship with local Black Lives Matter activists, who have criticized her handling of deadly-force cases in the District.
“They are critical of me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t see them and support the things that will make our community safe,” Bowser said, “and that we don’t all have a larger responsibility in the nation’s capital to send that very clear message to our nation.”
In a letter Thursday, Bowser formally asked Trump to “withdraw all extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence from Washington, D.C.”
“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.”
Demonstrations on 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.
On Friday afternoon, Trump attacked Bowser on Twitter, calling her “incompetent” and accusing her of “fighting with the National Guard.”
The president appeared to be referring to a dispute over a hotel that the city government is using to house covid-19 responders.
Bowser said she had no problem with guardsmen staying at D.C. hotels, as long as the U.S. military or their home state — and not the District — foots the bill.
Asked specifically about the president calling her incompetent, Bowser retorted, “You know the thing about the pot and the kettle?”