NEW YORK >> New York City painted “Black Lives Matter” in large yellow letters on the street outside Trump Tower today, the latest flare-up in a yearslong feud between President Donald Trump, who rose to fame as a Manhattan real estate developer, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who once sought to replace him.
De Blasio, who briefly joined activists and city workers to paint the block of Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th streets in Manhattan, made his intent clear before he grabbed a roller.
“Black lives matter in our city, and Black lives matter in the United States of America,” he said. “Let’s show Donald Trump what he does not understand. Let’s paint it right in front of his building for him.”
The mayor went on to help fill in the bottom of the “L” in “Lives,” as a number of people surrounded him chanting “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace” — though a few others nearby also shouted insults critical of him and his administration.
Since winning the presidential election in 2016, Trump has increasingly clashed with officials in his former home state, including not only de Blasio, but Manhattan’s district attorney, who issued a subpoena for eight years of Trump’s business and personal tax records.
Today, as the painting began, the Supreme Court ruled that Trump could not shield his financial records from New York prosecutors.
Today’s public art project was announced last month, and city officials have presented its location as a direct rebuke of Trump, who has repeatedly disparaged those protesting against systemic racism and police brutality in recent weeks.
“The president is a disgrace to the values we cherish in New York City,” a spokeswoman for de Blasio said in a statement at the time. “He can’t run or deny the reality we are facing, and any time he wants to set foot in the place he claims is his hometown, he should be reminded Black Lives Matter.”
Trump, who has a history of denigrating Black people, appeared to take the bait. The city’s announcement of the painting provoked an inflammatory response from the president that tried to play on tensions between Black Lives Matter protesters and the New York Police Department.
Trump and de Blasio have sparred repeatedly in recent years. The mayor once said that New York would not “welcome back” Trump, who was born in Queens, after his presidency ended. Months later, the president, who has called de Blasio “the worst mayor in America,” switched his primary residence to Florida.
The public battle between the two men intensified after de Blasio announced his Democratic presidential bid last year. The mayor made Trump’s behavior a focal point of his campaign, and the president repeatedly derided the mayor’s hopes for higher office.
As the work got underway on Fifth Avenue, activists, reporters and onlookers milled around, with some occasionally shouting criticism of Trump.
Sapur Postell, 65, who was sitting on a concrete barrier observing, said he had journeyed early from his home on Staten Island to witness the phrase being painted.
Postell said that the project had a deep meaning for him, because he was a descendant of people who had been enslaved, and that he hoped it would catch the president’s attention.
“Hopefully, the guy will look out the window and rethink,” Postell said. “But I doubt that.”
But the project was not met with universal approval; some people had gathered around the artwork to criticize the mayor and his response to the president.
Juliet Germanotta, 38, said she came specifically to jeer de Blasio, whom she accused of ordering the painting as a way to support Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, this fall.
Germanotta, who in 2018 planned to run for Congress in Wisconsin, said that she planned to vote for Trump in November, and that she objected both to the painting’s location and its message. But she also said that she did not think people would have to look at it for long, anyway.
“This is going to get painted over in a day or two by people who love America,” she said.
The painting is a part of a citywide project that will ultimately see at least one similar street painting in each of New York’s five boroughs. The initiative followed an act by Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, who had “Black Lives Matter” painted in giant yellow letters outside the White House after the president deployed federal officers during protests there sparked by the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
New York City has continued to see largely peaceful protests in recent weeks, though de Blasio and the Police Department came under fire for their aggressive handling of protesters early last month.