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In response to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s “Black Lives Matter” mural, protesters painted “Defund The Police” at several spots in downtown D.C. “People are really prepared to have a shallow conversation right now—get in and talk about two or three reforms to the police and get out,” John Henry Williams, a protester who helped paint the 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW mural, told City Paper on Saturday. “We need to radically rethink how our criminal justice system works and this is to call Muriel Bowser into that conversation.”
The local chapter of Black Lives Matter tacked on their message in yellow paint at the end of Bowser’s mural, replacing the stars of the D.C. flag with an equal sign so it reads “Black Lives Matter = Defund The Police.” City officials refreshed the paint on Sunday, restoring the stars, but left the protesters’ message intact. When asked in a press conference on Monday if she’d remove the addition to her mural, Bowser recognized its “expression” but wouldn’t directly answer the question, saying “I do not consider it as part of the mural.”
These grassroots actions reflect the fact that reactions to Bowser’s mural and street name have been mixed and complicated—this was evident in dozens of interviews this reporter did on Saturday where reactions ranged from “powerful symbol” to “beautiful distraction.”
“Black people are allowed to be joyful or feel seen with D.C. renaming a street after Black Lives Matter,” said Kiki Green, a core organizer with the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, in a statement. “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.”
Defund the police: This three-word rallying cry was painted on the streets and chanted all weekend long, and it’s what Black Lives Matter DC, along with a number of other activists, are fighting for. So what does it mean? Depends on who you ask. But it starts with smaller police budgets and fewer cops.
“It is not enough to simply not give the money to the cops,” Sean Blackmon, an organizer with Stop Police Terror Project D.C., told City Paper. “That money and resources need to be redirected intentionally to community-based programs, because it is our opinion that the people in those communities already have everything that they need to keep themselves safe and to keep themselves whole, they just need the resources to do so.”
Local activists point to D.C. police’s record with black residents, along with other vulnerable groups like immigrants and sex workers, and cannot understand why the mayor’s proposed budget could increase Metropolitan Police Department’s budget by 3.3 percent, or $18.5 million. In a crowd of protesters on Sunday, Blackmon evoked the names of D’Quan Young, Jeffrey Price, Marqueese Alston, Terrence Sterling, and Ralphael Briscoe—black men killed by MPD officers between 2011 and 2018—to argue that D.C. is no different than Minneapolis and to make his case for divestment. He was met with cheers from a small crowd.
Bowser has been asked about the defund police movement numerous times now and has doubled down her investment in MPD, including yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Bowser said “we have invested not a penny more and certainly not a penny less than what we need for safe neighborhoods in our communities.” She came prepared to defend her budgets over the years on Monday. Police Chief Peter Newsham cautioned about reacting too quickly to this moment, saying on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on Friday, “the number one thing that contributes to excess force in any police agency is when you underfund it. If you underfund a police agency that impacts training, that impacts hiring, that impacts your ability to develop good leaders, thoughtful leaders.” Some have questioned whether protesters’ murals comprise reform, and such a bill is up for a vote as soon as Tuesday. But Councilmember Charles Allen—who introduced police reform legislation and is chairman of the committee with jurisdiction on MPD’s budget—assured, “No it won’t.”
Black Lives Matter DC further explained its demands in a press release on Sunday: defund the MPD, police free schools, decrimininalize sex work, drop charges against protesters, end to cash bail in Maryland, ban on stop and friskk, no new jails in D.C. and abolish prisons, and invest in community.
To some, these demands sound radical, perhaps impractical and impossible. But those advocating for these types of demands would argue that the current system is impractical, so radical solutions are needed. ( In response to this moment, the Minneapolis City Council pledged on Sunday to “dismantle” the police department.) The general consensus among these advocates seems to be that the current criminal system does more harm than good, so abolition needs to be the end goal and we need to start creating pathways toward transforming the system.
Interested in learning more? Might I recommend starting with this New York Times op-ed on what defunding police means by Philip V. McHarris and Thenjiwe McHarris, along with this Justice In America podcast episode on prison abolition featuring Mariame Kaba. —Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
CITY DESK LINKS, by Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? email@example.com)
At a press conference on Monday, Bowser says she “can largely be supportive” of Allen’s police reform legislation based on preliminary briefings, but is going through it section by section today to further review it. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson supports Allen’s legislation and proposed amendments of his own, including a provision that prohibits matters relating to discipline from being negotiable by the police union. [Twitter, Twitter]
D.C. reported two deaths related to COVID-19 and 57 new positive cases, bringing the total to 491 and 9,389, respectively. As of June 8, DC Health says we are not meeting any of the four metrics required to move to Phase 2. [EOM]
Need to get tested after being in crowds? List of free public testing sites. [Twitter, Twitter]
Protesters reckon with what comes next after 10 days of demonstrations. [WAMU]
D.C.’s streets were designed for this moment of mass, leaderless protests. [DCist]
LOOSE LIPS LINKS, by Mitch Ryals (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vincent Orange and Michael A. Brown are considering runs for At-Large Councilmember David Grosso’s seat. [WCP]
ICYMI: The D.C. Council will consider police reform legislation tomorrow. [WCP]
Patrick Kennedy concedes the Ward 2 race to Brooke Pinto. [DCist]
DFER-DC says its mailers attacking Janeese Lewis George were a mistake. [Twitter]
YOUNG & HUNGRY LINKS, by Laura Hayes (tips? email@example.com)
Chef Kwame Onwuachi on the hurdles black chefs face. [Post]
Restaurants are poised to stop giving police preferential treatment. [Eater]
ARTS LINKS, by Kayla Randall (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
Singer Kenny Sway talks about bringing music to local protests against anti-black racism and police brutality. [Washingtonian]
Protest art now covers the new White House fence. [DCist]
Apple Maps updated its satellite imagery to show the Black Lives Matter mural in D.C. [The Verge]
SPORTS LINKS, by Kelyn Soong (tips? email@example.com)
Local professional athletes like quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., Mystics star Natasha Cloud, Wizards All-Star John Wall,were among the thousands of protesters who showed up in cities across the country over the weekend to demand racial justice. [NBC Sports Washington, Swish Appeal, Bleacher Report]
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted the league was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier.” Colin Kaepernick, who started the discussion when he kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality and other racial injustices, still does not have a job in the NFL. [USA Today]
The Wizards’ path to a potential play-in tournament for the eighth and final playoff spot will not be easy. [Bullets Forever]
CITY LIGHTS, by Emma Sarappo (Love this section? Get the full newsletter here. Tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
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On June 19, Bandcamp will donate all of its share of music sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
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