For the second time in two days, police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters outside the White House on Monday evening (Tuesday in India) to disperse a large gathering that had assembled to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man, in police custody last week. The attack at Lafayette Square came minutes before the 7 pm curfew was to come into effect. It also took place as US President Donald Trump made a brief address at the Rose Garden in the White House, in which he threatened to send the military to states where Governors could not control the violence.
Then, as protesters were forced away from the White House, Trump walked over to the St John’s Episcopal Church, which had been set ablaze be protesters on Sunday evening, for a controversial photo session.
George Floyd’s death: Protests rage across the US
Protests have spread across the US over the last seven days, including to Washington D.C., seeking justice for George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died on May 25 while being restrained by four white police officers in Minneapolis. The police had been alerted by a grocery store manager, who suspected Floyd had paid using a counterfeit $20 note.
Responding to the call, officers had arrested Floyd from his car. He was taken to the sidewalk and asked to sit down. Minutes later, while they attempted to walk Floyd to their police car, he reportedly fell to the ground. He was later pinned down, with an officer kneeling on his neck. He repeatedly pleaded for help saying “I can’t breathe”, before becoming unconscious. In about nine minutes from the time he was pinned to the ground, he passed away.
Officers later claimed he “resisted” being handcuffed. Video footage of the incident showed otherwise.
Protests have spread across the US since then, even to cities in Europe.
According to the latest autopsy conducted by a private agency, Floyd died of “mechanical asphyxia”.
Donald Trump’s White House briefing
During his briefing Monday evening, Trump paid respect to Floyd and said his administration would ensure justice to his family, but added the US could not allow “peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob”.
“In recent days, our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa, and others. A number of state and local governments have failed to take necessary action to safeguard their residence… These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror. The destruction of innocent life and the spilling of innocent blood is an offense to humanity and a crime against God,” the President said.
“That is why I am taking immediate presidential action to stop the violence and restore security and safety in America. I am 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,” he said, adding that “if a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then (he) will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
During Trump’s televised statement, loud bangs could reportedly be heard in the background.
Protests outside the White House
Just before 7.00 pm, personnel including Secret Service agents, Park Police and National Guardsmen started dispersing a crowd of thousands of protesters outside the White House, at Lafayette Square, using tear gas and rubber bullets.
The White House said protesters were given three verbal warnings before being targetted, a claim countered by many reporters.
Trump visits St John’s Church
Trump, along with his senior aides, security and reporters took a “last minute” decision to walk to the St John’s Church, which had been torched days before by the protesters. According to CNN, it is rare for the President to leave the White House on foot in this manner.
Holding a copy of the Bible outside the Church, Trump said: “We have a great country… Greatest country in the world.”
This is in stark contract to news of Trump reportedly hiding in a bunker during the protests on Sunday.
He is being criticised for Monday’s incident after speculation that he ordered the attack on protesters.
Hillary Clinton called it a “horrifying use of presidential power against our own citizens”, while appealing to people to vote in the upcoming US Presidential Elections.
Tonight the President of the United States used the American military to shoot peaceful protestors with rubber bullets & tear gas them.
For a photo op.
This is a horrifying use of presidential power against our own citizens, & has no place anywhere, let alone in America. Vote.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 2, 2020
Joe Biden, too, criticised the President for “using the American military against the American people”.
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. https://t.co/G1yE67q9Nz
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 2, 2020
(With inputs from AP)
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