WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to end “the riots and lawlessness” across the country, but police were bracing for an eighth night of protests Tuesday, even as big city mayors imposed curfews to keep people off the streets and National Guard troops were deployed to quell any violence.
The often peaceful day-time demonstrations spawned by the death last week of a black man while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, degenerated as night descended into angry street confrontations between protesters and police in several cities.
But Trump on Tuesday morning declared on Twitter: Washington “had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination. Likewise, Minneapolis was great (thank you President Trump!).”
D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination. Likewise, Minneapolis was great (thank you President Trump!).— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2020
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive Democratic opponent in the November national election, attacked the U.S. leader’s response to the week of coast-to-coast violence, perhaps the most widespread civil unrest in the country since the extended protests against the Vietnam war in the 1960s.
"The country is crying out for leadership,” Biden said in Philadelphia. “Leadership that can unite us, leadership that brings us together. Leadership that can recognize pain and deep grief of communities that have had a knee on their neck for a long time.
“I won’t traffic in fear and division,” Biden promised.
Tear gas, rubber bullets
In Washington Monday, under orders from Attorney General William Barr, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters to clear a park across the street from the White House shortly before an early evening curfew took effect.
A short time later, Trump took a short walk through the park for a photo-op in front of the nearby fire-damaged St. John’s Episcopal Church, often referred to as “the church of the presidents.”
Trump held up a Bible, declared the United States as the “greatest country in the world,” and said, “we’re going to keep it safe.”
Earlier, at the White House, Trump vowed that “if a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
Trump said he was “mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights.” The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of all American citizens to own firearms.
Church photo-op draws rebuke
Trump’s use of the church as a backdrop prop for a photo-op drew a sharp rebuke from the head of the Episcopal diocese of Washington, Bishop Mariann Budde.
She said Trump “just used a Bible and a church of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for. To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard.
“Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” she said.
Biden said, “He's using the American military against the American people. He tear-gassed peaceful protesters and fired rubber bullets. For a photo. For our children, for the very soul of our country, we must defeat him.”
He's using the American military against the American people.
He tear-gassed peaceful protesters and fired rubber bullets.
For a photo.
For our children, for the very soul of our country, we must defeat him. But I mean it when I say this: we can only do it together. — Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 2, 2020
Rubio blames 'agitators'
However, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida voiced a different view of the police action in the park, claiming that “professional agitators” were posing as peaceful protesters and that the media fell for their “calculated” tactics.
“They knew the street needed to be cleared before 7 pm curfew,” Rubio tweeted. “But they deliberately stayed to trigger police action & get the story they wanted, that 'police attacked peaceful protesters.’”
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas called the clearing of protesters from the park necessary “for security purposes" since Trump was "walking over to the church." But another Republican, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, said, “I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop.”
On Tuesday, Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, visited another religious site, the Catholic Saint John Paul II National Shrine, a short drive from the White House. Again, though, Trump’s visit was not welcomed by a religious leader.
Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in a statement, “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we might disagree.”
Gregory added, “Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
What sparked protests
The demonstrations started a week ago in Minneapolis, where George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died after being held face down on a city street by a white police officer who pressed a knee against his neck even as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe.
Minnesota’s Hennepin County medical examiner ruled Floyd’s death a homicide and said he died of “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” An independent autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family concluded that he died of “asphyxiation from sustained pressure” after being pinned down by his neck and back.
Another church visit
On Tuesday, Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, is planning another visit to a religious site, the Catholic Saint John Paul II National Shrine, a short drive from the White House.
The president, according to Defense Department officials, ordered the Army to deploy an active duty military police battalion for Washington, the single jurisdiction where the military can do so without first consulting the governor of a state.
National Guard mobilized
All 1,200 National Guard forces in the nation’s capital have been mobilized, and five states were quickly sending between 600 and 800 additional Guard troops, some armed with lethal weapons, according to officials.
Additional U.S. active duty troops, including military police and engineering units, have been placed on standby outside the District of Columbia but are poised to move in if necessary, officials say.
Late Monday night, a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter flew low over the rooftops of Washington’s historic Chinatown district in a “show of force” maneuver, sending protesters scattering to avoid the dust and debris kicked up by the helicopter’s rotors, which also snapped the branches off trees.
Earlier Monday, Trump rebuked U.S. state governors, telling them to get tough with protesters.
"Most of you are weak,” the president told them, according to an audio recording of the call. “You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”
Protest response criticized
Trump is facing criticism for not adopting the traditional presidential role of “consoler-in-chief" since the death of Floyd, which has spawned a national outpouring of agony and anger.
The president, instead, has spent time on Twitter attacking Biden, other Democratic politicians and lumping them in with the far-left radicals he blames for the violence in recent days.