FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
WASHINGTON The large yellow letters on the asphalt are there to stay. In central Washington every building, every street, every monument has a precise meaning. A reference to the history and identity of the country. The overall design is still the one imagined by George Washington, French architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant and Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, third president. The basic idea is that democratic institutions, starting with the White House, must be open, accessible, “close to the people». In the past ten days this concept has been temporarily archived. Federal Park Police agents first closed Park Lafayette and then sealed the entire perimeter, raising nets of two and a half meters to the South Portico of the presidential residence overlooking Constitution Avenue and the Mall. Something never seen in Washington’s recent history. A trauma.
The authorities announced that they would dismantle the fences on June 10, that is yesterday. In reality, they will still be there for a while. Eventually, however, the public will be able to return to cross the Lafayette park. But it will never be the same again. It was Jefferson himself, who prided himself on being an architect, who wanted a green space in front of the White House. In the center of the park, in 1853, the first equestrian statue of the USA was erected, that of President Andrew Jackson, a democrat-populist, but also a slaveholder. Now the effect of Jackson and his rampant horse is as canceled by those large letters painted on 16th Street which, as the crow flies, cuts through the garden, the statue and the White House. It reads: “Black Lives Matter”, the name of the movement leads in protests for the murder of George Floyd.
It was not an improvisation of the protesters, but a political act authorized by the mayor of Washington, the African American Muriel Bowser. Without an urban plan, without architects or designers, in a few days Bowser broke the age-old balance in the most solemn place in the United States. Difficult to go back now. The mayor has also changed the name of the last stretch of the street: it is now “Black Lives Matter Plaza”. While Speaker of the Chamber Nancy Pelosi asked for the removal of the statues of the Confederate States at the Capitol in the wake of protests for the death of African American George Floyd killed by police in Minneapolis.
In these convulsive days, however, not even Bowser has managed to keep everything under control. Activists added another slogan with the same dimensions: “Defund the Police», Remove the funding from the police. It is the proposal that is dividing the democratic party. There are those like Bill de Blasio or Eric Garcetti, mayors of New York and Los Angeles, have already announced budget cuts for law enforcement. Bowser, however, is against it. Indeed, he defined the Washington Police Department as “one of the best in the entire country”, thanks to “the reforms launched in recent years”. The mayor is clearly embarrassed by that second yellow strip. Defund the Police: who will have the courage to send a bitumen truck to cover it?
The movement also appropriated the St. John’s Episcopal Church, the so-called church of the presidents. Here Monday 1 June Donald Trump had posed with a Bible in his hand after having cleared the crowd of the policemen on horseback.
For two centuries the neoclassical building, completed in 1816 by the American Benjamin Latrobe, was known for the bench number 54, where all the presidents, starting from the fourth, James Madison, went to Mass at least occasionally. Now the display board in front of the entrance has been covered with a black panel, with white characters. The omnipresent “Black Lives Matter” signature and then a biblical quote from the Book of the Prophet Micah 6: 8: “Practice justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly towards your God. » Of course it is not a random choice. It is one of the Old Testament verses most commented by Martin Luther King, the great African American leader summoned many times in the hottest days of the protest. Right here, at the intersection of 16th and H, or rather in “Black Lives Matter Plaza”, the center of Washington’s new geography.
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