On Friday morning, Washington, D.C.’s Public Works Department, at the direction of Mayor Muriel Bowser, painted “Black Lives Matter” in 35-foot-tall yellow letters on 16th Street between K and H Streets. Bowser also formally renamed this section of the road, which leads directly to the White House, Black Lives Matter Plaza in advance of a protest planned for Saturday.
Bowser’s actions on 16th Street send a photogenic message—and figurative middle finger to the current resident of the White House—but as a statement without political action, it’s only surface level.
Right now, the most powerful way for elected officials to say “Black Lives Matter” is by defunding law enforcement—a stance Bowser has not taken. She’s actually trying to increase police spending in Washington, D.C.
This is a performative distraction from real policy changes. Bowser has consistently been on the wrong side of BLMDC history. This is to appease white liberals while ignoring our demands. Black Lives Matter means defund the police. @emilymbadger say it with us https://t.co/w0ekwSG1ip— BlackLivesMatter DC (@DMVBlackLives) June 5, 2020
Her proposed 2021 budget, released on May 18, calls for a $578,069,493 Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) operating budget, a 3.3 percent increase from 2020, and a $18,729,714 capital budget, a 51 percent increase from 2020. Meanwhile, her 2020 budget called for expanding the MPD to 4,000 officers by 2021.
Other cities have announced spending reforms amid this week’s protests. Mayors in Los Angeles and San Francisco are redirecting funds from law enforcement to black communities. Four Minneapolis council members have committed to dismantling the city’s police department.
There’s a growing movement among D.C. residents and activists to defund law enforcement and direct money to social services instead. “A budget is a moral statement,” Sean Blackmon, an organizer with Stop Police Terror Project D.C., told Washington City Paper. “It comes down to a question of who gets this money and resources and why do they deserve it?”
Black lives matter in the streets.— A. Ward (@dubonthestreets) June 5, 2020
AND in policy.
AND in design.
AND in funding.
AND in outreach.
AND in decision-making power.
AND in scope/schedule/budget.
AND in staffing.
AND in leadership.
AND in data/evaluation.
AND I’m out of characters.
“Whose streets? Our streets” has been a common refrain at demonstrations across the country this week, as protesters demand an end to the police brutality and white supremacy that led to the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other black people in the United States who are not safe on any street or in their homes.
The symbolism of 35-foot-tall letters painted by D.C. city employees on city streets is a reminder of this ongoing fight. But let’s not forget that this is the very same area where law enforcement shot rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protesters. No amount of paint can fix that.