Is The Trump Tower Black Lives Matter Mural Meaningful — Or Just Performative?

Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images.
Even before the 2016 election, New York City’s Trump Tower has been a site of protest, with people gathering on Fifth Avenue to protest everything from gun violence to the nomination of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. As of today, though, this stretch of Fifth Avenue will look a little different, thanks to the addition of the words "Black Lives Matter" painted in giant, yellow letters on the street directly in front of Trump's Midtown Manhattan building.
Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio authorized the mural to be painted in front of the Trump headquarters, and the project kicked off today with Mayor de Blasio painting alongside dozens of city employees. Predictably, Trump is against the mayor’s plans. In a tweet on July 1, Trump said, “NYC is cutting Police $’s by ONE BILLION DOLLARS, and yet the @NYCMayor is going to paint a big, expensive, yellow Black Lives Matter sign on Fifth Avenue, denigrating this luxury Avenue.”
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Trump also called the move to paint the sign as something that will “further antagonize New York’s finest,” referring to the NYPD, and said that the words Black Lives Matter are a "symbol of hate."
In response to the president, Mayor de Blasio said, "President Trump said we would be denigrating the luxury of Fifth Avenue. Let me tell you: we're not denigrating anything, we are liberating Fifth Avenue, we are uplifting Fifth Avenue.”
New York is not alone in painting Black Lives Matter in large, bright letters on city streets — a similar painting exists just outside of the White House in Washington, D.C. Proponents of these signs say they send a serious message of solidarity, and communicate that local leaders and communities are prioritizing the anti-racist movement.
And, the decision to make the message inescapable to Trump, in particular, is important considering that the Black Lives Matter movement has sustained many attacks from the president, who recently called protesters “hoodlums” for trying to take down racist statues.
Of course, affixing murals in Trump's periphery is not a solution or real response to the ongoing crisis of police brutality in America — and many activists don't support the murals at all. After the Black Lives Matter mural was painted outside of the White House, the D.C. chapter of the Black Lives Matter Global Network called it a "performative distraction from real policy changes." And let's not forget that the painting outside of Trump Tower comes after the New York City council voted to change the NYPD budget, but failed to meet protesters' other demands.
Though there are undoubtedly purely performative aspects to this mural, the message to Trump — which is loud and relentless — still stands. Mayor de Blasio has maintained that, "When we say 'Black Lives Matter' there is no more American statement, there's no more patriotic statement, because there is no America without Black America. We are acknowledging the truth in ourselves and in America. By saying 'Black lives matter' we are righting a wrong.”
It remains to be seen how de Blasio and other local leaders across the country plan to put their words into real action, but all eyes are on them to see if they can make good on their promises.

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