President Donald Trump threatened on Monday to deploy the United States military unless states quickly halted the violent protests that have convulsed cities from coast to coast, speaking in the White House Rose Garden as tear gas canisters could be heard exploding just a block away.
Trump said he was recommending that governors deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers to “dominate the streets.” If governors fail to take action, the president said, he will mobilize “thousands and thousands” of U.S. soldiers and “quickly solve the problem for them.”
“We have the greatest country in the world,” the president declared. “We’re going to keep it safe.”
Minutes before Trump began speaking, police and National Guard soldiers began aggressively forcing back hundreds of peaceful protesters who had gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, where they were chanting against police brutality and the Minneapolis death of George Floyd.
Floyd died last week after he was pinned to the pavement by a police officer who put his knee on the handcuffed black man’s neck until he stopped breathing. His death set off protests that spread from Minneapolis across America. His brother Terrence pleaded with protesters on Monday to remain peaceful.
The demonstrators in Lafayette Park were cleared so that after his brief statement, Trump could walk across the park to St. John’s Episcopal Church, known as “The Church of the Presidents,” which suffered fire damage in one of the protests. Holding a Bible, he then stood with several of his Cabinet members as the cameras clicked.
The moment was quickly decried by Trump’s critics, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying the president “used the military to push out a peaceful protest so he could have a photo op at a church.”
What in the Triumph of Will is this. https://t.co/wDSFwzhes1
— Hayes Brown (@HayesBrown) June 2, 2020
“It’s all just a reality TV show for this president,” he said on Twitter. “Shameful.”
The country has been beset by angry demonstrations for the past week in some of the most widespread racial unrest in the U.S. since the 1960s. Spurred largely by Floyd’s death, protesters have taken to the streets to decry the killings of black people by police. The protests come at a time when the country is already buckling because of the coronavirus outbreak and the Depression-level unemployment it has caused.
On Monday, police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who spilled onto an interstate highway in the heart of Philadelphia just before a 6 p.m. curfew took effect.
While most of the demonstrations have been peaceful, others have descended into violence, leaving neighborhoods in shambles, stores ransacked, windows broken and cars burned, despite curfews around the country and the deployment of thousands of National Guard members in at least 15 states.
Earlier Monday, Trump told the nation’s governors in a video conference that they they “look like fools” for not deploying even more National Guard troops. “Most of you are weak,” he said.
He added: “You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, dismissed Trump’s comments as the “rantings of an insecure man trying to look strong after building his entire political career on racism.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, vowed to address institutional racism in his first 100 days in office. He met in person with black leaders in Delaware and also held a virtual meeting with big-city mayors.
Biden said hate emerges “when you have somebody in power who breathes oxygen into the hate.”
In Minneapolis, Floyd’s brother Terrence made an emotional plea for peace at the site where Floyd was arrested.
“Let’s switch it up, y’all. Let’s switch it up. Do this peacefully, please,” Terrence Floyd said.
The crowd chanted, “What’s his name? George Floyd!” and “One down, three to go!” in reference to the four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest. Officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with murder, but protesters are demanding that his colleagues be prosecuted, too. All four were fired.
The gathering was part rally and part impromptu eulogy as Floyd urged people to stop the violence and use their power at the ballot box.
“If I’m not over here messing up my community, then what are you all doing?” he said. “You all are doing nothing. Because that’s not going to bring my brother back at all.”