US President Donald Trump led his remarks on the country’s first manned rocket launch in nearly a decade with some harsh words for civil rights protesters around the country demanding police accountability.
“My administration will stop mob violence, and we’ll stop it cold,” Trump said from Florida hours after ordering the Pentagon to put military police on alert for potential deployment to the demonstration sites.
“Radical left criminals, thugs and others, all throughout our country and throughout the world, will not be able to set communities ablaze,” Trump said.
Civil rights protests, most of them peaceful, have taken place all week in cities across the country following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in police custody; four police officers were later fired. One of the officers — seen in a video of the incident pinning Floyd to the pavement with his knee — has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Some of the larger demonstrations have turned violent in recent days. Protesters in Minneapolis managed to force police officers to retreat as they set fire to a police station, as well as several businesses in the area. Damage to police vehicles has also been documented in other cities.
Local and national leaders of both parties have lamented the property damage. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said in a press conference early Saturday morning that he understood the “rage” but not the “wanton destruction.” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he was “reeling” after Floyd’s death but stressed that “there is no honor in burning down your city.”
Critics, however, are pushing for a better and more widespread understanding of the issues underlying the anger, including police brutality and a justice system that all too often appears biased in favour of white people.
Trump has expressed disbelief at the video of Floyd’s death while calling for ever more aggressive policing tactics in clear opposition to protesters’ demands. He tweeted threats to the protesters early Friday morning, writing, ”[W]hen the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a phrase used by a racist Miami police chief during the height of civil war protests in the 1960s. Twitter slapped a content warning over the president’s message for the second time this week, saying it glorified violence.
On Saturday, Trump claimed the violence was “being led by Antifa and other left-wing groups who are terrorising the innocent, destroying jobs, hurting businesses and burning down buildings.” But Minnesota officials are reportedly investigating whether white supremacy groups were behind the violence.
“I will not allow angry mobs to dominate. Won’t happen,” Trump said. “It is essential that we protect the crown jewel of American democracy: the rule of law.”
Later, he voiced support for law enforcement.
“We support the overwhelming majority of police officers who are incredible in every way and devoted public servants,” Trump said. “They keep our cities safe, protect our communities from gangs and drugs, and risk their own lives for us every day.”
Protests are expected to continue into Saturday night.