The words “Defund the Police,” painted by activists in the street near a “Black Lives Matter” mural in Washington, won’t be removed, a representative of the District of Columbia’s Department of Public Works told a local Fox affiliate.
Another part that was added—an equals sign painted between Black Lives Matter and “Defund the Police”—will be removed, the agency said. In its place, a District of Columbia flag that had been removed by activists will be repainted.
Asked June 7 whether the message would be removed, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser declined to answer directly.
Bowser, a Democrat in her second term, directed city workers to paint the words “Black Lives Matter” on a street while renaming a section of the road Black Lives Matter Plaza.
But the words “Defund the Police” were added later in bold yellow letters nearby, prompting some criticism.
Bowser said officials are proud of the Black Lives Matter mural.
“It is an affirmative piece of art, a centering piece of art, where people from around the globe have called us and thanked us for acknowledging black humanity and black lives in the most important city in the world. And we are very proud of that art,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Pressed on whether she’d order the removal of the words “Defund the Police,” Bowser said: “Well, it’s not a part of the mural. And we certainly encourage expression, but we are using the city streets for city art.”
Asked a third time, Bowser said: “I actually haven’t even had an opportunity to review it, Martha. But the response that we’ve gotten from people about the Black Lives Matter mural has just been incredible.”
Defunding the police, or cutting funding from police departments, was opposed by 65 percent of respondents in a recent poll (pdf). Just 16 percent said they favor funding cuts, while 19 percent weren’t sure.
Black Lives Matter’s Washington chapter panned the artwork, saying in a statement that Bowser “must be held accountable for the lip service she pays in making such a statement while she continues to intentionally underfund and cut services and programs that meet the basic survival needs of black people in D.C.”
The group listed a number of demands, including defunding the Metropolitan Police Department, removing officers from schools, decriminalizing sex work, ending cash bail, and abolishing prisons.
“Black people are allowed to be joyful or feel seen with D.C. renaming a street after Black Lives Matter. It’s also our responsibility to let you know what we are fighting for, who has the power to change things and that power concedes nothing without demand,” Kiki Green, an organizer with the local chapter, said in a statement.
Elsewhere, the group claimed the move was “to appease white liberals while ignoring our demands.”
Activists are upset over what they describe as racial injustice. The latest incident, they say, is the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.
“We have invested not a penny more and certainly not a penny less than what we need for safe neighborhoods in our communities,” Bowser said about the criticism June 7 on “Fox News Sunday.”
The current budget proposal includes an increase of more than 3 percent for public schools and a policing program in which local residents would be hired and sent to college while working for the police department, Bowser said.
“And what that does is it makes us have a force that is diverse, it has more women, it has more D.C. residents, and it will help us create a partnership between police and community,” she said.