Why You Should Hold Your Applause For Mayor Muriel’s Mural
We must demand more from the people who lead.
June 07, 2020 at 3:10 pm
D.C.’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, capped off an exhaustive week of pain and protest by reasserting her control of the District of Columbia. On Friday, June 5, 2020, Mumbo Muriel, as she has been christened by locals familiar with her cultural snafus, renamed the street in front of the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and unveiled a massive mural of the slogan painted on the asphalt leading to the national landmark. Her Chief of Staff, John J. Falcicchio, tweeted that the mantra was painted “to make it abundantly clear that this is DC’s street” and to honor peaceful demonstrations. This audacious move of solidarity is in response to a public dispute between the mayor and the president over the presence of federal law enforcement and military officials, in an attempt to curb protests surrounding the lynching of George Floyd.
The performative gesture was met with applause on social media; one user even suggested that the mayor would make a great running mate for Joe Biden. And at that moment, it was made abundantly clear that the calls for justice would, once again, be quelled by a commitment to comfort and compromise.
Just as a protest without a program is pointless, so is political performance without policy. Despite her public display of machismo, Muriel Bowser’s policies on policing are impotent. The mayor’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes a budget increase for the Metropolitan Police Department while decreasing spending for the construction and preservation of affordable housing. Although both budgets are affected just slightly, the respective adjustments highlight the fine line of compromise that too many leaders tread. A line that is painfully blunt to the Black and brown low-income residents who often cannot afford to live on the famed street painted in their supposed honor.
For many, the District of Columbia represents the seat of American democracy. The capital of the most powerful nation on Earth; 68 square miles of territory littered with the monuments that tell of our history. But for many life-long residents, Washington, D.C. is also an example of the dark side of our so-called freedom. A study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that D.C. has experienced the highest intensity of gentrification in the country; displacing over 20,000 African American residents from 2000 to 2013. The Prison Policy Initiative reports that Washington, D.C. has an incarceration rate of 1,153 per 100,000 people — a higher incarceration rate than any U.S. state. In February, as traffic fines in D.C. surpassed $1 billion in just three years, John Townsend, Public Relations Manager of AAA Mid-Atlantic, is quoted saying, “I don't know another local jurisdiction in the entire nation that has generated as much money from traffic tickets, parking tickets and moving violations.”
The fines generate more money than alcohol, cigarette, motor vehicle, fuel and estate taxes and all revenue from licenses and permits, and personal property taxes combined. These fines leave vulnerable residents unable to take advantage of many of the resources often touted by the city, including businesses licenses. Additionally, a new report by Save the Children, ranking states and counties across the U.S. according to where children are “most and least prioritized and protected,” ranked D.C. 1,008 out of 1,120 urban counties and in the bottom quintile for all counties. African Americans make up just under half of Washington’s population.
So, the assertion of Muriel Bowser’s individual political agency is not a proper litmus test of her political platform. Frantz Fanon writes that pacifist political parties are violent in their words and reformist in their attitudes. They ask of the colonialist bourgeoisie what to them is essential: give me more power.
Muriel’s Black Lives Matter Mural is about her feud with our illegitimate President, not the execution of Black bodies by law enforcement. Compromise is necessary and art does uplift the human spirit, but in this important time in history, we must demand more from the people who lead.