The two-block stretch of road immediately north of the White House now bears a strong message to Washington, DC’s most infamous resident. Employees of the city, with the help of some demonstrators and local artists, deployed rollers and bright yellow paint to create a 35-foot mural emblazoned with the words “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on 16th Street NW.
The city-sponsored mural, which is being produced by the DC Department of Public Works, reads as a monumental rejoinder to President Trump, who on Monday ordered the National Guard to clear the protest-filled area by force as he walked over to the neighboring St. John’s Episcopal Church for a surreal photo-op that drew instant comparisons to fascist propaganda. It will also be plainly visible to any police helicopters flying overhead.
The Department of Public Works did not immediately respond to Artnet News’s request for comment.
The installation of the mural began late Thursday night, without fanfare or even a public announcement, according to DCist, which first reported the story. It’s expected to be completed on Friday morning.
“There was a dispute this week about whose street this is,” John Falcicchio, the chief of staff for DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, wrote in a tweet. “Mayor Bowser wanted to make it abundantly clear that this is DC’s street and to honor demonstrators who (were) peacefully protesting on Monday evening.” Mayor Bowser also tweeted a video surveying the mural accompanied by the hashtag “BlackLivesMatter.”
However, not everyone in the activist community agreed with the tenor of the message.
“This is performative and a distraction from her active counter organizing to our demands to decrease the police budget and invest in the community,” the DC chapter of Black Lives Matter wrote in response to a tweet about the mural from a reporter. “Black Lives Matter means Defund the police.” Activists have taken issue with Bowser’s proposed 2021 budget, which increases police funding while cutting other programs, including a violence prevention initiative.
Mayor Bowser and President Trump have sparred this week over the control of DC’s streets as the two exchanged tweets and words in public appearances.
“We are all very concerned about how the federal assets pushed out from the federal complex and we worked with them to push back,” Bowser said in a press conference Thursday. “We are subject to the whims of the federal government. Sometimes they are benevolent and sometimes they are not. And so we have to fix it.”
That same day, she sent a letter to President Trump requesting that he remove “extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence from our city.”