Judicial Watch filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday demanding access to D.C.’s streets to paint its own messages, after the city painted Black Lives Matter on one street and allowed protesters to paint their own “Defund the police” message next to it.
The conservative group said it wants to paint its own motto, “Because No One is Above the Law,” on a street near its D.C. officers.
Judicial Watch said the city has turned its streets into a public forum for political expression by painting and allowing the other messages, which means that it cannot shut out other competing messages or else it runs afoul of the First Amendment.
“DC streets surfaces are now being used as public fora for expressive activity,” Judicial Watch said one of its letters demanding access to the streets for its own painting.
The group said it would pay for the painting but needs the city to arrange to divert traffic. After three weeks of requests went effectively unanswered, Judicial Watch said it had to sue.
The fight is the latest frontier in what’s become guerrilla urban planning, after protesters have taken it upon themselves to pull down statues and paint slogans on public property across the country.
The city’s painting of “Black Lives Matter,” in large safety-yellow lettering, is on 16th Street NW, a major thoroughfare. It was done by city workers, along with demonstrators.
A day later, protesters added their own “Defund the Police” message next to the city’s message.
Judicial Watch says Mayor Muriel Bowser has endorsed the guerrilla messaging by allowing it to remain — which means she must also allow others to offer their own views the same way.
Interim Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio brushed off Judicial Watch’s request in an initial exchange of letters, saying that the portion of 16th Street that was painted — which has been dubbed “Black Lives Matter Plaza” — is closed, which made the painting acceptable.
Judicial Watch then asked for access to a similar closes street, and said Mr. Falcicchio told them to submit an application for a public space permit, which would govern a parade or some other event, but not painting, Judicial Watch says.
Indeed, when the group inquired with the city’s permitting office it says it was told there was no such permit possible to paint a city street.
“We would gladly follow the rules if there were any. We are left with the firm conviction that the process – to the extent there is one – is arbitrary and favors only one viewpoint, that which is currently being expressed on 16th Street,” the group said.
City Attorney General Karl Racine, who is also named as a defendant alongside Ms. Bowser and Mr. Falcicchio, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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