In June, Washington, D.C., employees painted “Black Lives Matter” on 16th Street, N.W., across from the White House. Black Lives Matter D.C. responded by painting “Defund the Police” next to the city’s mural. The city let the message stand and then allowed activists to deface private and public property with impunity, even though activists had not even applied for permits.
Yet the city did not respond to permit requests from pro-life groups seeking a “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter.” One of the groups received a permit for a rally which included plans to paint a mural and a police officer said they could use paint on the street, but when they arrived, cops prevented the pro-lifers from painting. When activists attempted to write their message in washable chalk, police arrested them.
On Wednesday, the pro-life groups — the black pro-life group Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America — sued Washington, D.C., and Bowser for discrimination that violated the rights to religious freedom, free speech, due process, and assembly.
“The government can’t discriminate against certain viewpoints by allowing some voices to be heard while silencing others,” Elissa Graves, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the pro-life groups, said in a statement. “Because of the city’s actions, Frederick Douglass Foundation and Students for Life of America weren’t able to participate in the public square as other groups have. The First Amendment prohibits the government from picking and choosing whose speech to allow.”
“The city shouldn’t be able to silence and punish us for expressing ideas that it doesn’t agree with,” Frederick Douglass Foundation Virginia Chapter President J.R. Gurley declared. “Government officials can’t discriminate against peaceful displays on the basis of our beliefs about abortion when they have allowed other groups the same avenues to express their beliefs. If the mayor allows other messages to be painted and chalked, we should be able to express our views in the same manner without fear of unjust government punishment.”
“We are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our students as they speak for the most marginalized and defenseless among us,” Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins lamented. “The Constitution guarantees the right to peacefully express our views in the public square. If there is disagreement over contentious issues, the answer is always more speech, not censorship, fines, or jail time.”
The lawsuit lays out the city’s egregious double standard discriminating against pro-life speech while endorsing the Black Lives Matter movement.
After city employees painted the “Black Lives Matter” mural on 16th Street in June, the local chapter of Black Lives Matter added, “Defund the Police” in similar yellow paint right next to the city’s mural. The city’s mural had the Washington, D.C., flag — three stars above two stripes — to the right of “Black Lives Matter.” The activists painted over the three stars, so the street read, “Black Lives Matter = Defund the Police.” The city allowed the message to stand, only adding the three stars back. The message is clear on Google satellite view.
As the summer continued, activists covered the scaffolding in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters with Black Lives Matter-themed messages, spray-painting the scaffolding, the sidewalk, and the road. Activists even erected a gallows with a sign reading, “That’s the difference between a cop and a Klansman?”
In each of these situations, activists did not apply for permits from the D.C. Department of Transportation or from the Metropolitan Police Department.
By contrast, the Federick Douglass Foundation (FDF) and Students for Life of America (SFLA) applied for a permit for assembly with the police department. FDF and SLFA intended to gather in front of the Planned Parenthood Carole Whitehill Moses Center on 4th St. N.E., and to paint “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter” on the street, resembling the “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police” murals.
SFLA Executive Vice President Tina Whittington applied for the permit, which the police granted for August 1, from 6 a.m. to noon. Whittington spoke with a police officer regarding the permit, and the officer gave her verbal permission to paint the “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter” mural on the street, so long as the pro-lifers used tempera paint.
The officer allegedly said that, because Bowser had allowed painting on other streets, she had “opened Pandora’s Box” and therefore the police would not be able to stop the attendees from painting on the street.
Separately, FDF and SFLA sent a letter to Bowser’s office, requesting permission to paint the mural. The letter argued that Bowser “must allow SFLA and FDF to paint its ‘Black Pre-born Lives Matter’ message. Your original decision to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the street is government speech. However, your decision to allow protestors to paint ‘Defund the Police’ opened the streets up as a public forum. You are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint in making determinations relating to public assemblies in public fora.”
The pro-life groups did not receive a response to the letter. Since the police had granted their permit, they gathered on August 1, planning to paint the mural. When they arrived, six police cars and many officers awaited them. The cops forbade them from painting on the street or chalking on the sidewalk, warning that if they did so, they would be arrested.
Two students with SFLA attempted to draw “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter” in chalk on the sidewalk and were immediately arrested.
This shocking double standard deserves a severe legal rebuke. While Bowser did not apply the law against Black Lives Matter activists when they defaced public property, her agents seemingly rushed to apply the law when it came to defending Planned Parenthood and restricting pro-life speech. Activists use graffiti to attack the police with impunity, but pro-lifers get arrested for daring to attack Planned Parenthood.
“It’s modern-day genocide for African Americans,” Louisiana State Rep. Katrina Jackson told PJ Media. “More African American babies are killed in the womb each year than by any other cause. There’s no other way to look at it. At the close of 2019, more African American babies will die at the hands of abortionists than any other disease, sickness, or violence combined. How do you not define it to be genocide?”
Yet D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser privileged one message — the BLM chant, “Abolish the Police” — over the other — “Black Pre-Born Lives Matter.”
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.