WASHINGTON: “Black Lives Matter,” written in huge yellow letters stretching over two blocks on the street leading to the White House, welcomed thousands of protesters on Saturday as they launched yet another anti-racism rally that police said could be the biggest so far as tens of thousands were expected to arrive in the city which is still under Covid-19 restrictions.

City workers and local artists worked till 2am to complete the mural before Saturday’s protests and Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, said she did so to make it “clear that this is DC’s street”, not President Trump’s.

“We know what’s going on in our country. There is a lot of anger. There is a lot of distrust of police and the government,” the mayor said at a news conference.

“There are people who are craving to be heard and to be seen and to have their humanity recognised. We had the opportunity to send that message loud and clear on a very important street in our city.”

The mural ends near St John’s Episcopal Church, where Trump staged a photo-op on Monday after officers in riot gear fired tear gas and charged demonstrators to make way for the president and his entourage.

She also renamed the area the “Black Lives Matter Plaza”. “We want to … make sure that our nation is more aware and more just,” said Mayor Bowser while explaining why she decided to rename the area.

While not addressing the painted mural, the president declared in a tweet that the mayor was “incompetent”, had no control over her budget, “and is constantly coming back to us for handouts”.

Referring to the mayor’s letter in which she asked Trump to withdraw federal troops, the president said the same troops “saved her from great embarrassment over the last number of nights”. He also threatened to “bring in a different group of men and women” if Bowser did not respect the troops.

The local chapter of Black Lives Matter said it did not support painting the street and took a swipe at Bowser, whom they see as insufficiently supportive of their efforts to combat abuses by the police.

“This is performative and a distraction from her active counter-organising to our demands to decrease the police budget and invest in the community,” it said on Twitter.

Protesters began to gather around the White House by early afternoon to attend a rally, as street marches across the US to protest the killing of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, entered the 12th day.—with input from agencies

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2020