Bowser renamed a street in front of the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza” on Friday and had the slogan painted in giant letters leading to Lafayette Square, which has become the district epicenter for protests against police brutality. The Saturday night update by Black Lives Matter D.C. now follows shortly after, 10 feet from the original street art.
Makia Green, a basic organizer for Black Lives Matter D.C., said on Saturday that the organization’s presentation of “Defund the police” is a “direct response” to the mayor’s mural. Black Lives Matter D.C. tweeted the city’s original mural “is a performative distraction from real policy change,” adding that the mayor has always been on the wrong side of “BLMDC” history.
Bowser’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Carrying buckets of paint and paintbrushes on long poles, the group wiped their statement on the street in about 20 minutes on Saturday night as a large crowd gathered to watch. The district flag has been converted to an “equal” sign, thereby co-operating the city’s own work to have the mural read: “Black Lives Matter = Defund the police”.
” It’s ours. It’s all ours. This city is ours, ”shouted an organizer. “These streets? Ours. “
Staff of the city’s public works department repainted the D.C. flag on the original wall paint on Sunday morning, but did not touch the “Defend the Police” message.
Candace R., who refused to give her last name, stood just behind the yellow warning tape surrounding the project on Saturday night as members of Black Lives Matter D.C. put the finishing touches on their sharp response.
“Defund … the … police,” read Candace aloud. “It’s good, it’s necessary. “
“People have died and the mayor and the president are arguing over how to control the city,” she added. “He misses the point. “
An African American organizer walked around the middle of the circle, brandishing 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 the years,” she said. Before the paint even dried, some people started dancing to the sound of “Before I Let Go”. When the dance stopped, members of the Black Lives Matter began calling on blacks to stand on the mural.
“Enter the circle,” said one protester. “Blacks only. “
Standing on the street after painting, three friends said they were glad the message was painted in addition to Bowser’s mural.
“No one is trying to withdraw all the money,” said Rohena Innocent, 18. But we’re talking about investing in the community. ”
Her friend Dominique Frederick, 19, said Bowser’s exhibit was “a temporary tattoo” made despite the mayor’s budget increase for the police this year.
“This is great marketing,” said Innocent.
“But it’s not enough,” they both said in unison.
Sofia Martinez, 21, from D.C., said it was particularly important to cut police funding and increase funding for minority communities given the scale of gentrification in the district in recent years.
“It was the city of chocolate,” she said, repeating a phrase often used by the late mayor Marion Barry.
Neil Turner stood on the newly painted first “D” of “Defund the police”, dominating most of the protesters.
As others gathered 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, looking at the letter under his feet. ” I like this. “
But the Fairfax native, who is black, said he was not sure if he agreed with that.
“We have to be in control,” he said of the need for certain police services. “But where does it end? All these people in power, who controls them? “
Turner thought Bowser had done a good job. When asked if the police should be excluded, he replied, “If their intention is to help us, to help the community, then of course not. “
Turner, who just graduated from Old Dominion University, said he was surprised how the atmosphere had changed since last week when he first took part in the protests.
“It is so crazy to see how quickly things are changing,” he said. ” Tear gas? I didn’t want to deal with it. ”
When the painting was finished, Monique Fegans, 31, led a small group singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, which is known as the black national anthem.
“I was like we should sing the black national anthem,” said Fegans, who was from Newark, Delaware. Fegans said she was impressed with the energy in the district and the message from the protesters.
“The laws must change,” she said.
Jessica Stahl of the Washington Post contributed to this report.