Trump accused of tear-gassing peaceful protesters 'for a photo-op' at nearby church

'The point was the tear gas. Not the photo op,' Democratic senator writes on Twitter

Griffin Connolly
Tuesday 02 June 2020 01:37
Trump threatens to deploy 'heavily armed' US military to crush George Floyd protests

As Donald Trump told the nation he would protect peaceful protesters in a speech at the White House's Rose Garden on Monday, police officers roughly 100 yards to the north unloaded tear gas, rubber bullets and flash bangs to disperse peaceful protesters by Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, so the president could walk to St John's Episcopal Church for a photo op.

The move by police to clear the president's safe passage to the famed church, executed around the time of DC's citywide 7pm curfew on Monday, enraged Democratic lawmakers and other commentators.

"Donald Trump just tear-gassed peaceful protesters for a photo op," California Senator Kamala Harris tweeted.

"The point was the tear gas. Not the photo op. If you haven't figured that out, you haven't been paying attention for 3 years," Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy tweeted.

Over the last several days, thousands of Americans have taken to the streets of the largest cities in the US to protest police brutality after an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, George Floyd, died on 25 May while a white police officer knelt on his neck.

An autopsy report released on Monday found Mr Floyd died of asphyxiation at the scene of his death.

The police officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged at the state level with third-degree murder.

Since Friday, thousands of people have flocked to the White House and nearby Lafayette Square to protest Mr Floyd's death and systemic racism in American law enforcement. Demonstrators and law enforcement tangled sporadically throughout the weekend, prompting the city's mayor, Muriel Bowser, to institute a citywide 7pm curfew that will last at least until Tuesday.

In his Rose Garden address on Monday, Mr Trump doubled down on the tone he has struck in previous days prioritising law and order on the streets, although he has acknowledged sympathy for Mr Floyd and his family.

The president threatened to deploy "heavily armed" US military troops to cities even if mayors and governors object, a manoeuvre that could face legal challenges.

The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act places strong guardrails against a president using active duty military troops to uphold civil laws on US soil. Congress can waive the law, but it is not likely Democrats would cede such authority to Mr Trump given the politically and racially sensitive nature of the protests.

"I am mobilising 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," Mr Trump said during his speech on Monday.

Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the administration was "looking at every tool in the federal toolkit."

Not every lawmaker thought Mr Trump's stroll to St John's was a bad idea.

Texas Republican Congressman Chip Roy retweeted a message from conservative columnist Inez Stepman praising the president's gesture.

"Visiting St John's Church, which was lit on fire last night by an arsonist rioter, is an excellent gesture from the President," Ms Stepman wrote.

The church was partially burned on Sunday night amid the DC protests. Every modern US president, including Mr Trump, has attended at least one service there.

At the church, Mr Trump held up a bible in his right hand and delivered brief off-the-cuff remarks.

Police fire tear gas at protesters near the White House

He later gathered some of his closest advisers around him as TV cameras rolled and photojournalists took pictures.

"Is that your bible?" someone asked the president as he stood before the church.

"It's a bible," he responded.

The Washington Post's religious affair correspondent, Michelle Boorstein, reported that the Episcopal bishop of DC, who oversees the church Mr Trump visited, was "outraged that neither she nor the rector were either asked or told about the president's photo opp".

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