By Hussein Waaile
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York's mayor joined activists on Thursday to paint "Black Lives Matter" in giant yellow letters on the city's exclusive Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower, once the crown jewel in President Donald Trump's property empire.
As doormen at the luxury apartment building's shiny gold doorstep watched, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, along with Reverend Al Sharpton, who eulogized George Floyd in Minneapolis in early June, joined dozens of mask-wearing people pushing paint rollers to create the block-long mural.
The Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white officer knelt on the Black man's neck.
High school student Betty Kubovy-Weiss, 16, of Manhattan, said her work painting the "V" and "E" of "LIVES" was aimed at counteracting the "negativity and violence" of Trump's presidency.
"Black Lives Matter is an important statement in and of itself. Our president has generally been highly critical of the movement in a way that I think is very dangerous and damaging to our nation," Kubovy-Weiss told Reuters.
Trump on Twitter last week called the mural a "symbol of hate."
In an interview on Fox News on Thursday night, Trump said merchants along Fifth Avenue are "furious" at the mural.
Trump, who changed his primary residence in September to Florida from Manhattan, said people are leaving the city because of the way it is run. "It's very sad actually to see what happened," he said.
Similar Black Lives Matter murals are planned in each of New York City's five boroughs and have appeared across the United States. They started in Washington, D.C., where the massive message covered a street near the White House after authorities used pepper spray to disperse peaceful protesters and clear the way for Trump's June 1 photo opportunity of him holding a Bible in front of St. John's Episcopal Church.
"It doesn't mean that other lives don't matter - it just means that this shouldn't be happening," said James Wallace of New York. "We won't turn our heads and deny that there is racial violence occurring."
As a hot sun beat down on hundreds of gallons of paint drying outside one of Manhattan's most prestigious addresses, de Blasio's office tweeted a photograph of the mural with the words, "NYC has a message for the world: #BlackLivesMatter."
(Writing by Barbara Goldberg; editing by Diane Craft and Michael Perry)