WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Wednesday said painting “Black Lives Matter” on New York’s Fifth Avenue would be “a symbol of hate” and wind up “denigrating” the street outside Trump Tower, as he ratcheted up objections to a plan that he suggested the city’s police could stop.

Trump’s comments, in morning tweets, were his latest volley directed at New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, D, who last week ordered that the tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement be painted in large yellow letters in a move designed in part to antagonize the president. De Blasio responded to Trump’s tweets Wednesday by calling them “the definition of racism.”

Trump’s tweets were also the second time in as many weeks that he has lashed out at the Black Lives Matter movement as polls show a majority of Americans disapproving of his response to the nationwide protests that emerged after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later defended Trump’s tweet, claiming that he was referring to the Black Lives Matter organization, not the cause.

“All black lives do matter,” she said. “He agrees with that sentiment.”

She pointed to remarks made by a man who describes himself as the president of the Greater New York Black Lives Matter chapter – “If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it” – to justify Trump calling the organization a “symbol of hate.”

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But the man, Hawk Newsome, whom Trump accused of treason last week, has no relationship with the official organization despite using the name for his own group.

“Only BLM chapters who adhere to BLM’s principles and code of ethics are permitted to use the BLM name, said Kailee Scales, managing director of Black Lives Matter Global Network. “The reason for this is simple: unaffiliated uses of BLM’s name are confusing to people who may wrongly associate the unsanctioned group and its views and actions with BLM.”

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The movement against racial profiling and police violence has played a prominent role in demonstrations for which Trump has expressed disdain, despite his claims that he supports peaceful protests.

In his tweets, Trump decried a move by New York officials to shift about $1 billion from the city’s police budget in a bid to respond to calls to “defund the police” that resonated following the recent deaths of Floyd and other African Americans in police custody.

“NYC is cutting Police $’s by ONE BILLION DOLLARS, and yet the @NYCMayor is going to paint a big, expensive, yellow Black Lives Matter sign on Fifth Avenue, denigrating this luxury Avenue,” Trump tweeted. “This will further antagonize New York’s Finest, who LOVE New York. . . . Maybe our GREAT Police, who have been neutralized and scorned by a mayor who hates & disrespects them, won’t let this symbol of hate be affixed to New York’s greatest street. Spend this money fighting crime instead!”

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De Blasio responded on Twitter less than two hours later, writing that Trump does not understand that “Black people BUILT 5th Ave and so much of this nation” and highlighting that the tribute to the movement would be painted near Trump Tower, which houses Trump’s company and one of his homes.

“Your ‘luxury’ came from THEIR labor, for which they have never been justly compensated,” de Blasio said. “We are honoring them. The fact that you see it as denigrating your street is the definition of racism.”

De Blasio also took issue with Trump’s appeal to New York police, noting that “NY’s Finest are now a majority people of color.”

“They already know Black Lives Matter,” de Blasio said. “There is no ‘symbol of hate’ here. Just a commitment to truth. Only in your mind could an affirmation of people’s value be a scary thing.”

Trump also sought to sow division between de Blasio and the city’s police force last week in a tweet that objected to the planned painting of “Black Lives Matter” between 56th and 57th streets in New York.

Plans for the New York tribute to Black Lives Matter follows a move last month by Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, D, to rename a street in front of the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and paint the slogan in massive yellow letters.

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Last week, in explaining de Blasio’s decision to paint the tribute to the movement outside Trump Tower, a de Blasio spokeswoman pointed to Trump.

“The president is a disgrace to the values we cherish in New York City,” spokeswoman Julia Arredondo said in a statement last Thursday. “He can’t run or deny the reality we are facing, and any time he wants to set foot in the place he claims is his hometown, he should be reminded Black Lives Matter.”

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