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D.C. Mayor Comments On 'Black Lives Matter' Road Banner And Funding The Police


Among the many responses to the killing of George Floyd in cities across the country, one of the most visible is here, Downtown D.C., two blocks of 16th Street leading to the White House now painted with huge yellow letters - so huge they're visible from space - spelling Black Lives Matter. This was painted by D.C. city workers at the direction of D.C. mayor, Democrat Muriel Bowser, who joins me now.

Mayor Bowser, welcome back. Good to have you.

MURIEL BOWSER: Oh, thank you for having me.

KELLY: How did the idea for this come together, and how long are you going to keep it?

BOWSER: Well, I think you know that federal forces had occupied parts of Washington, D.C., including 16th Street and in a brazen kind of show of force in our city by the federal government. When we were able to reclaim that portion of 16th Street following, you know, an unprecedented, we think, move by the government to squelch a First Amendment protest - and the message, Black Lives Matter, is a affirming one for people who are demanding that we have a more just criminal justice system.

KELLY: It's gotten acclaim far and wide. LeBron James tweeted about it. It's been the front page of newspapers all over the country and probably around the world. That said, not everybody loves it. As you know, the local chapter of Black Lives Matter has called it a distraction. And Black Lives Matter activists have added some words, and those words are defund the police in the same bright yellow paint. What do you say to them, to protesters who want to defund the police, to cut the D.C. police...

BOWSER: Well, we know is the job of the activist is to call their issues to elected officials, and our local chapter is no different. And we know, certainly I do, what our public safety needs are in Washington, D.C., and they're not just policing. They include all of our opportunities to equalize opportunity and all of our non-law-enforcement initiatives that are meant to interrupt violence.

KELLY: Understood...

BOWSER: So we invest in all of those things.

KELLY: ...But on this specific demand to defund the police, what is your response?

BOWSER: We fund the police at the level that we need it funded. And my counsel has my current budget proposal in front of them to give every neighborhood in Washington, D.C., the police support that they need. And so my budget doesn't fund it a penny more than we need, and certainly not a penny less.

KELLY: The budget that you put out last month, in fact, calls for increasing funding for the police, if I'm not mistaken. I was looking at it. It calls for another $45 million for things like police cruisers and motorcycles, so the opposite of what these protesters, and, to be fair, a lot of experts on policing are now calling for. Are you reconsidering your position in any way?

BOWSER: Not at all. What our budget proposal and what - I can't speak for other departments, but they fund the people that we need. And certainly we wouldn't want the people on our forces not to have the proper training or equipment that makes for better community policing. And I think you also have to look at the context of our entire budget where we - I've been mayor for five years. We've seen police spending increase 12% in those five years. At the same time, our population has increased, and our calls for service have increased. If you look at our safety net programs, they have increased 75%, and I'm talking specifically about human services and homeless services.

KELLY: You used the word occupied...


KELLY: ...And the word reclaiming. We're having to reclaim 16th Street from this heavy military presence that...


KELLY: ...President Trump sent in. And I want to ask you about the back-and-forth that you've been engaged in with President Trump. I saw The Washington Post just ran a big profile of you, calling you a fresh voice of the resistance. Is that how you see yourself?

BOWSER: No. I see myself as a defender of Washington, D.C. My job - and certainly I don't wake up in the morning wanting to have a Twitter tiff with the president of the United States. But I have to defend my population. And we also had to stand up for our principle, not just our own, but for our nations. Peaceful protest is a hallmark of our democracy, and the federal government should not be advancing on Americans who are peacefully protesting.

KELLY: Muriel Bowser, she is the mayor of Washington, D.C.

Mayor Bowser, thank you very much for your time.

BOWSER: Thank you. Have a good one. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.