New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that the Black Lives Matter murals painted around the five boroughs were painted without going through the application process for public art projects.
His comments come after the city is facing scrutiny for refusing to let other groups to paint similar murals on city streets, with the groups accusing the mayor of depriving them of their First Amendment rights.
De Blasio told reporters in July that he would not allow Blue Lives Matter and other groups to paint similar messages. He justified his decision by saying that “Black Lives Matter” represents a “seismic moment” in the nation’s history and transcends the message of any one group.
Meanwhile, a conservative women’s group, Women for America First, sued De Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in July for allegedly blocking their request to paint a mural with the message “Engaging, Inspiring and Empowering Women to Make a Difference!”
During a press conference, De Blasio appeared to backtrack on his comments, saying that he hadn’t said “no to people.”
“We’ve said, if you want to apply, you can apply, but there’s a process,” he said.
The mayor added that the decision to paint the Black Lives Matter murals came out of a meeting at Gracie Mansion with community leaders and activists who urged the mayor to declare the message official. He justified the decision to not follow the normal permit process, saying that that message “transcends all normal realities because we are in a moment of history where this had to be said and done.”
“That’s a decision I made,” he said. “But the normal process continues for anyone who wants to apply.”
Trottenberg told reporters during the same press conference that anyone can apply for the public art program but added that the city has the discretion on picking those projects.
De Blasio drew an inflammatory response from President Donald Trump in June when he decided to paint “Black Lives Matter” in large yellow letters on the street outside of the Trump Tower. City officials have portrayed the location chosen as a way to rebuke the president for his response to the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
The mayor has previously defended the mural, saying that the Black Lives Matter movement “transcends any notion of politics.”
“This is about righting a wrong and moving us all forward,” he added.
City councilors in Tulsa, Oklahoma, are also facing similar requests from groups after a Black Lives Matter mural was painted on a city street. The officials on July 29 agreed to remove a “Black Lives Matter” mural from its Greenwood District, which was painted without a permit, saying that allowing the Black Lives Matter mural to remain on the street would invite other groups to request to have their own messages painted. One of the councilors said he had already received requests from several pro-police groups about painting the words “Back the Blue” in another area in the city, in support of the Tulsa Police Department.