The "Black Lives Matter" mural on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue directly in front of Trump Tower -- a project President Donald Trump blasted as a "symbol of hate" -- has been defaced with a large splash of red paint.
Photos and videos posted to social media at lunchtime Monday showed red paint all over the letters "liv" in Lives. One video, obtained by News 4, shows a person dressed in dark colors and hat, dump a single can of paint across the mural before running away; the NYPD is investigating. Anyone with information on the suspect seen below is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.
Hours later, Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the mural had already been repainted by city employees, removing any hint of the red paint.
"The #BlackLivesMatter movement is more than words, and it can't be undone," de Blasio tweeted.
Nikki Rospond, the woman who caught the vandal on camera, says she works in the neighborhood and was on her lunch break Monday when she decided to come by and take a video of the whole mural.
The suspect suddenly stepped into her video frame, threw the paint and quickly ran off. "I just couldn't believe he did it in front of me and another person. It was clear we were videotaping and he just didn't care," Rospond said.
"Thankfully this was just paint and nothing violent," she continued.
After a brief postponement, the painting was finished last week. Mayor Bill de Blasio along with the Rev. Al Sharpton joined the effort last Thursday, both helping to paint the letter "L" in lives as onlookers chanted "Black Lives Matter."
"Our city isn’t just painting the words on Fifth Avenue. We’re committed to the meaning of the message," de Blasio tweeted Thursday as he painted.
The mural is one of five that will be created in each of the city's five boroughs. The original announcement drew condemnation from the president.
"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!" the president tweeted.
De Blasio later took to Twitter to fire back at Trump in unsparing terms.
"There is no 'symbol of hate' here. Just a commitment to truth," the mayor wrote. "Only in your mind could an affirmation of people's value be a scary thing." The mayor went on to say on Thursday that "we are not denigrating anything, we are liberating Fifth Avenue."
Many New Yorkers paused along Fifth Avenue last Thursday to take photos of the developing mural.
“I think it’s amazing. It sticks it to him," said Fran Prince of Midtown, referring to the president. "It doesn’t mean that it’ll change him. But it breaks away at the things that he thinks he can say and stop."
Not everyone outside the president's former home is on board with the plan. As one Trump supporter told News 4, "I'm praying for rain."
Hawk Newsome, the leader of the Black Lives Movement, blasted de Blasio for allegedly not involving them in this particular mural project.
"I like this project because it annoys Trump, but we don’t need de Blasio to sign streets. We need him to sign legislation," Newsome said in a statement. "If he had called me, I would have said have a black business paint this."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed similar sentiments. While he supports the murals, he has said trying to enact actual police reform should be the primary goal. He has aimed criticism at de Blasio over NYPD budget cuts amid the recent spike in violence. (Shortly after the city passed a budget that sharply cut NYPD funding, it paid multiple officers overtime to guard the mural project.)
Overall, polls have shown a majority of Americans supporting Black Lives Matter since recent protests against racial injustice began.