CHAOS IN DC. Tear gas rises above as protesters face off with police during a demonstration outside the White House over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police in Washington, DC on Sunday. Thousands of National Guard troops patrolled major US cities after five consecutive nights of protests over racism and police brutality that boiled over into arson and looting, sending shock waves throughout the United States. AFP
WASHINGTON — It began with Attorney General Bill Barr standing with his hands casually in his pockets, not wearing a tie, surveying the scene at Lafayette Park across from the White House, where several thousand protesters had gathered for more demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd.
President Donald Trump had announced he would soon be addressing the nation from the White House Rose Garden, as a 7 p.m. curfew in the city loomed and a mass of law enforcement, including U.S. Secret Service agents, Park Police and National Guardsmen, stood sentry, many dressed in riot gear.
Moments before 6:30 p.m., just when Trump said he would begin his address, the officers suddenly marched forward, directly confronting the protesters as many held up their hands, saying, “Don’t shoot.”
Soon, law enforcement officers were aggressively forcing the protesters back, firing tear gas and deploying flash bangs into the crowd to disperse them from the park for seemingly no reaso
n. It was a jarring scene as police in the nation’s capital forcefully cleared young men and women gathered legally in a public park on a sunny evening, all of it on live television.
With smoke still wafting and isolated tussles continuing in the crowd, Trump emerged in the Rose Garden for a dramatic split-screen of his own creation.
“I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters,” he declared, before demanding that governors across the nation deploy the National Guard “in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.” And he warned that, if they refused, he would deploy the United States military “and quickly solve the problem for them.”
As an additional show of force, Trump announced he was deploying even more of the military to Washington, D.C., giving it the feel of an armed, locked-down city after days of violent clashes, arson and looting.
“As we speak I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers,” he said, as explosions rang out in the background. “We are putting everybody on warning.”
Then, before departing, Trump announced he wasn’t done for the evening, and would be “going to pay my respects to a very very special place.”
Moments later, the White House press pool was quickly summoned for a surprise movement. And soon after, Trump strolled out of the White House gates — something he had never done before — and walked across the park that had just been cleared to accommodate his movements.
Trump walked slowly, followed by an entourage of his most senior aides, security and reporters. The faint residue of pepper spray hung in the air, stinging eyes and prompting coughing.
Sections of the park and surrounding sidewalks were strewn with garbage, including plastic water bottles and other debris. Some sections had been scrawled with graffiti.
Trump crossed H Street and walked toward St. John’s Church, the landmark pale yellow building where every president, including Trump, has prayed. It had been damaged Sunday night in a protest fire.
Trump, standing alone in front of cameras, then raised a black-covered Bible for reporters to see.
“We have a great country,” Trump said. “Greatest country in the world.”
He didn’t talk about Floyd, the church or the damage it had suffered, or the peaceful protesters police had cleared. He said nothing about the coronavirus pandemic, the parallel crisis that has continued to ravage the nation as Trump campaigns for a second presidential term. And then he invited his attorney general, national security adviser, chief of staff, press secretary and defense secretary — all white — to join him for another round of photos before he walked back across the park to the White House.
At one point, he stopped and pumped his fist in the air at National Guard members in the distance.
“We’re going to keep it nice and safe,” he said.
Rabbi Jack Moline, the president of Interfaith Alliance, slammed the fact that peaceful protesters near the White House were gassed and shot with rubber bullets so Trump could hold his photo op.
“Seeing President Trump stand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding a Bible in response to calls for racial justice — right after using military force to clear peaceful protesters out of the area — is one of the most flagrant misuses of religion I have ever seen,” Moline said in a statement. This only underscores the president’s complete lack of compassion for Black Americans and the lethal consequences of racism.”
And the Right Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, to which St. John’s belongs, told CNN Monday night that she was “outraged” by the moment, adding that Trump neither prayed during his visit nor acknowledged the country’s agony.
“What on earth did we just witness?” she asked, lamenting “the abuse of sacred symbols of people of faith in this country to justify language, rhetoric” and “an approach to this crisis that is antithetical to everything that we stand for.”
Flames light up the skyline and the smell of acrid smoke fills the streets in a Minneapolis neighborhood rocked by protest, a few hundred meters from a besieged police station.
“The real reason we’re here is because the police keep killing black folk all around the United States,” says a young African American man who declined to be named.
His face covered by a mask — whether because of the coronavirus or to protect against tear gas it’s not clear — he says he came to protest peacefully on Friday with friends, despite a curfew imposed after three nights of rioting.
And as flames from a bank lick upwards nearby, the young man explains the anger seething across the country since the death of George Floyd on Monday at the hands of an officer who pinned him to the ground handcuffed and knelt on his neck for more than five minutes.
“We’re in 2020 and we’re dealing with the same problem that we were dealing with in the 60s… it looks like Minneapolis finally reached that breaking point”
“George Floyd isn’t the first,” adds Jerry, 29, who is white. “What are you supposed to do, just sit back and take it?”
More than a thousand people died after being shot by police last year in the US, according to The Washington Post. Black people are overrepresented in police shootings and condemnation is rare.
In Floyd’s case, the officer shown kneeling on his neck in footage of the incident was charged Friday with third degree murder — unintentionally causing a death — and negligent manslaughter.
Floyd’s family wants the other three officers at the scene to be charged as well.
– ‘Making it worse’ –
In Minneapolis Friday night, helicopters flew overhead as protesters faced off against police and explosions echoed through the streets.
“It’s scary but necessary at the same time,” says one young student, “sometimes things need to get bad before getting better.”
Others, however, are not so sure: “They are making it worse, they give them (the police) a reason to shoot us”, says thirty-four-year-old Phae, a black woman who lives nearby and is clearly exhausted.
“I sympathized completely but I don’t want to lose all my stuff,” says a young woman who lives above a barricaded shop and is scared it could be set on fire.
The local authorities were conciliatory in the first days of the protests, but have since called in the National Guard and stiffened their tone.
“There is no honor in burning down your city,” said the mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, at an improvised news conference held shortly after midnight. “It needs to stop.”
Some of the shops gutted by fire are owned by black families, added Minnesota Governor Tim Walz: “This is not about George’s death. This is not about inequities that were real. This is about chaos.”
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