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White House Holds the Line on ‘Law & Order’ Stance

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FILE - Police clear the area around Lafayette Park and the White House as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers.

The White House has “no regrets” about the violent clearing of protesters a week ago from Lafayette Square ahead of a presidential photo opportunity in front a church, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Monday.

“We stand by those actions,” McEnany said, when asked about the widely criticized move by law enforcement to fire what witnesses have documented as pepper balls and stinging rubber pellets.

The press secretary, during a regular briefing, said the decision to extend the security perimeter around the White House, which includes the fencing off of the 7-acre (2.83 hectare) park, was made after a small fire was set in the basement of nearby St. John’s Church.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are calling for the immediate reopening of the park.

The top Democratic lawmakers, in a letter to Trump, note the square “has long been a venue where Americans can gather to freely exercise their constitutional rights in close proximity to the White House.”

The letter tells the president, “Your conversion of this unique public park in the heart of our Nation’s capital to what looks like a militarized zone denies citizens access to the park and sends the worst possible message to the American public and people around the world.”

The demonstrators in the District of Columbia have been part of sustained protests nationwide since George Floyd, an African American man, died May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer held him face down on the street and pressed a knee against his neck for nearly nine minutes.

President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion with law enforcement officials, June 8, 2020, at the White House in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion with law enforcement officials, June 8, 2020, at the White House in Washington.

President Donald Trump on Monday afternoon held a law enforcement roundtable, during which he praised police for doing an incredible job in the country. He did suggest police – facing a backlash for brutality that in particular has targeted people of color – could conduct operations in “a much more gentle fashion.” However, the president emphasized, “We can’t give up the finest law enforcement in the world.”

Trump, in the White House State Dining Room, said his administration is considering ideas about police reform.

Sweeping legislation focused on police reform that House Democrats unveiled Monday, however, is a nonstarter for Republicans, McEnany said.

Trump said, “There won’t be defunding. There won’t be dismantling of our police. There’s not going to be any disbanding of our police.”

On Sunday, nine Minneapolis City Council pledged to disband the city’s police department and invest in community-based public safety programs amid demands from activists to “defund the police.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to trim his city’s $6 billion police budget and divert some of the funds to social services.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced he will cut the city's police budget by as much as $150 million, with some of that money going to fund youth jobs programs and health programs.

The phrase, “defund the police,” has become a rallying cry for thousands of demonstrations and potentially, now, a political litmus test.

“No, I don’t support defunding the police,” former Vice President Joe Biden told CBS News on Monday. “I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness and, and in fact are able to demonstrate they can protect the community.”

Attorney General William Barr, during Monday’s White House roundtable, said law enforcement understands that African Americans distrust police and that the law in the United States did not provide equal protection to African Americans until the 1960s. He said he is hearing lots of interest from police leaders on clarifying the standards and training on use of force and “we look forward to working with you to get that done.”

“The time for waiting is over,” Barr said. “It’s now incumbent on us to bring good out of bad.”

Taking note of recent protests that included arson and looting, Barr, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, said, “It is our responsibility to make sure that our country is ruled by law and not by violence.”

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