Conservative Group Files Suit to Paint Slogan on NYC Street

new york black lives matter lawsuit, de blasio black lives matter
A Black Lives Matter mural painted in front of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

A conservative women’s organization has filed a federal lawsuit against New York City, seeking to force the city to allow it to paint its own slogan near a city-sanctioned Black Lives Matter painting near Trump Tower in Manhattan. The suit alleges that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s allowing the Black Lives Matter painting while denying its own request is a violation of its First Amendment right to freedom of speech, by favoring one political message over another.

In the wake of recent protests calling for police reform, de Blasio himself participated in the painting of a “Black Lives Matter” mural in front of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue on July 9, and subsequently elsewhere around the city. Several groups have since sought permission to paint their own slogans.

An organization called Women for America First wrote to de Blasio on July 9, asking permission to paint on a city street its motto, “Engaging, Inspiring and Empowering Women to Make a Difference!” Women for America First, which describes itself as “women who support the America First Agenda” and shares leadership with Women for Trump, is seeking to paint its mural near the Black Lives Matter painting on Fifth Avenue, or alternatively on the FDR Drive, outside Gracie Mansion, or near Times Square or City Hall.

Women for America First says it has still not received a response to its request.

Asked by a Hamodia reporter at a press conference Thursday whether he would allow the groups seeking paint their own messages to do so, the mayor replied, “No, everything’s individual and specific,” and that the current protest period is “a seismic moment in this country’s history,” due to “the original sin of the United States of America, slavery and all of the effects over 400 years.”

When the reporter mentioned the possibility that it may violate the First Amendment if government were to “promote one political message over another,” the mayor replied, “I don’t think it’s a political message in the traditional sense. I think it’s a message about human respect and the value of human beings and addressing the fact that one group amongst us in particular has been devalued for centuries. And that can’t go on. I think it transcends any notion of politics.”

Neither City Hall nor the city Department of Transportation, which has authority over the city streets, responded to Hamodia’s request Thursday afternoon for comment on the pending mural requests or whether such requests would have to be approved by DOT, and whether any formal request was filed with DOT before the painting of the Black Lives Matter murals.

Early Friday morning, Women for America First filed suit against de Blasio and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

According to the lawsuit, the Black Lives Matter painting was “undertaken by the [DOT] at an initial cost of approximately $6,000 in funds allocated to the DOT for transportation-related purposes,” and that while the city had previously not had any murals on its streets, the “apparent change of policy concerning murals” requires that the city allow Women for America First to paint its own slogan. The suit alleges that “the BLM movement is for all practical purposes affiliated with the Democratic Party,” that de Blasio, a Democrat, has further “political ambitions” and that his actions with regard to the murals “is intended as a political gesture to the BLM movement and those sympathetic to it which has been done in order to enhance his future prospects as a Democratic candidate for office or appointee and by rallying BLM support for Democrats, including in the 2020 Presidential election.”

Since de Blasio and Trottenberg have allowed “New York City streets to be used for the painting of partisan political messages,” the suit says, by not allowing the Women for America First mural, the city is violating the group’s First Amendment rights by denying it “the timely opportunity to use New York City streets to paint its own political or expressive message.”

City Hall declined Hamodia’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

The suit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, asks that the court order the city to allow Women for America First to paint its slogan “for the same number of days as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ mural has and will continue to exist on Fifth Avenue.”

The case is being brought by First Amendment attorneys Ronald Coleman and Michael Yoder.

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