Washington mayor christens ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza’ outside White House
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Washington mayor christens ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza’ outside White House

City paints slogan in huge yellow letters on street leading to president’s residence, as Mayor Muriel Bowser spars with Trump over deployment of troops and police in city

People walk down 16th street after volunteers, with permission from the city, painted 'Black Lives Matter' on a street near the White House, June 5, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP)
People walk down 16th street after volunteers, with permission from the city, painted 'Black Lives Matter' on a street near the White House, June 5, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — Washington mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday renamed an area near the White House that has become the epicenter of anti-racism protests over the past week “Black Lives Matter Plaza” — unveiling a giant street mural.

The protests are focused on the May 25 death in Minneapolis of 46-year-old black man George Floyd while in police custody. A white officer kneeled on his neck until he lost consciousness.

That officer and three others are now in custody and facing charges — second-degree murder for the kneeling officer, and aiding and abetting that crime for his colleagues.

Just north of the White House, the words BLACK LIVES MATTER were painted in yellow along the street leading to the presidential mansion, along with the symbol from the DC flag.

With St. John’s Church in the background, people walk under a new street sign on Friday, June 5, 2020, in Washington. “The section of 16th street in front of the White House is now officially ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza,'” District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted. The black and white sign was put up to mark the change. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The enormous bright yellow letters on the street leading to the White House were a highly visible sign of the District of Columbia’s embrace of a protest movement that has put it at odds with US President Donald Trump.

“The section of 16th street in front of the White House is now officially ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza,'” Bowser tweeted, along with a video showing a city worker putting up a new street sign.

The White House had no comment.

However, Trump continued his attacks on Bowser in tweets Friday.

“The incompetent Mayor of Washington, D.C., @MayorBowser, who’s budget is totally out of control and is constantly coming back to us for ‘handouts,’ is now fighting with the National Guard, who saved her from great embarrassment over the last number of nights,” he tweeted. “If she doesn’t treat these men and women well, then we’ll bring in a different group of men and women!”

She shrugged off his criticism. “You know that thing about the pot and the kettle,” the mayor said at a news conference.

The local chapter of Black Lives Matter did not support painting of the street and took a swipe at Bowser. “This is performative and a distraction from her active counter organizing to our demands to decrease the police budget and invest in the community,” it said on Twitter.

The corner of 16th and H is significant — in a controversial incident on Monday, peaceful protesters gathered there were dispersed with tear gas.

Shortly afterward, Trump walked from the White House to a nearby church for a photo-op, during which he held the Bible in his hand.

The US government deployed a significant contingent of federal officers and military troops — many of them not wearing any identifying garb or badges — to handle protests in Washington.

But in a letter to Trump dated Thursday and tweeted early Friday, Bowser has called for “all extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence” to be removed.

“These additional, unidentified units are operating outside of established chains of command,” she wrote.

“We are well equipped to handle large demonstrations and First Amendment activities,” including the right to assemble, Bowser wrote.

Demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd as they gather Wednesday, June 3, 2020, on the East side of the US Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Protesters had been “peaceful” on Wednesday night, with no arrests made, she added.

On Thursday, as the protests turned peaceful, Bowser ended a curfew imposed after people damaged buildings and broke into businesses over the weekend and Monday. A large demonstration is expected in the city on Saturday.

The mayor also tweeted out a letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who wrote the president to express alarm that peaceful protesters were being confronted by heavily armed federal agents and officers.

Trump reiterated on Friday that authorities need to “dominate the streets,” and has been unapologetic about the deployment of forces.

Rose Jaffe, one of the artists in the collective that painted the BLACK LIVES MATTER sign, told AFP it was “about reclaiming the streets of DC.”

But she added that Bowser “has to do more than just a photo-op — she must carry on when this is washed away” on issues like police accountability.

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