WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday responded to outrage over the police killing of a black man in Minneapolis by threatening to take action to bring the city “under control,” calling violent protesters outraged by the killing “thugs” and reviving a civil-rights-era phrase fraught with racist overtones.
“When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump wrote in a tweet that was quickly flagged by Twitter as violating rules against “glorifying violence.” The White House said the president “did not glorify violence. He clearly condemned it.”
Trump’s comments came after protesters torched a Minneapolis police station on Thursday night, capping three days of searing demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, who was captured on video pleading for air as a white police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes.
The president’s reaction — a day after he had decried Floyd’s treatment and vowed justice for his family — underscored Trump’s complicated relationship with race as he tries to maintain a law-and-order mantle while looking to appeal to black voters during an election year. And it highlighted his refusal to avoid controversy or cede the spotlight even as the battered nation tries to make sense of another killing and reels over the mounting COVID-19 death toll.
Trump, in his tweets, borrowed a phrase once used by former Miami Police Chief Walter Headley in a 1967 speech outlining his department’s efforts to “combat young hoodlums who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign.” In the speech, Headley said his department had been successful “because I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
“We don’t mind being accused of police brutality,” he said in the same speech, according to news reports from the time.
Trump said Friday afternoon, after many hours of backlash, that he had meant that “Looting leads to shooting.”
“I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means,” he tweeted. “It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement. It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media. Honor the memory of George Floyd!”
He later talked at a White House roundtable about the killing, revealing that he’d conversed with some members of Floyd’s family.
“I want to express our nation’s deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathies,” he said while insisting, “We can’t allow a situation like happened in Minneapolis to descend further into lawless anarchy and chaos.”
“I understand the hurt. I understand the pain,” he said. But he argued that “looters should not be allowed to drown out the voices of so many peaceful protesters.”
“The family of George is entitled to justice and the people of Minnesota are entitled to live in safety. Law and order will prevail,” he said.
Criticism of the tweet was nonetheless swift.
“It’s not helpful,” said Minnesota’s Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, during a news briefing Friday. “Anything we do to add fuel to that fire is really, really challenging.”
Trump’s presumptive Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden said it was “no time for incendiary tweets, no time to incite violence.”
Derek Chauvin, 44, the white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck was arrested on murder charges Friday and accused in court papers of ignoring another officer’s concerns about the handcuffed black man who died after pleading that he could not breathe.
Police were trying to put Floyd in a squad car on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill when he stiffened up and fell to the ground, saying he was claustrophobic. Chauvin and officer Tou Thoa arrived to help and tried several times to get Floyd into the car, but he struggled, the complaint said.
At one point, Chauvin pulled Floyd out of the passenger side of the car, and Floyd, who was handcuffed, went to the ground face down. Officer J.K. Kueng held Floyd’s back and officer Thomas Lane held his legs, while Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s head and neck area, the complaint said.
Lane asked, “Should we roll him on his side?” Chauvin said, “No, staying put is where we got him.” Lane said he was “worried about excited delirium or whatever,” and Chauvin said, “That’s why we have him on his stomach,” according to the complaint.
Cities on fire
On Friday morning, nearly every building in the Minneapolis shopping district around the abandoned police station had been vandalized, burned or looted. National Guard members were in the area, with several of them lined up, keeping people away from the police station. Dozens of volunteers swept up broken glass in the street.
Dozens of fires were also set in nearby St. Paul, where nearly 200 businesses were damaged or looted. Protests spread across the U.S., fueled by outrage over Floyd’s death, and years of violence against African Americans at the hands of police. Demonstrators clashed with officers in New York and blocked traffic in Columbus, Ohio, and Denver.
In Columbus, a protest began peacefully but turned violent, with windows smashed at the Ohio Statehouse and storefronts along surrounding downtown streets.
The crowd of about 400 people entered into a standoff with Columbus police Thursday night, blocking the intersection of key streets in the Ohio capital for hours, the Columbus Dispatch reported.
Protesters began throwing objects like water bottles at officers, who responded by using tear gas on the crowd. A scuffle between a protester and an officer broke out around 9:45 p.m., WCMH-TV reported.
Videos obtained by The Associated Press show people smashing the building’s windows. One person briefly entered an office through a broken window but retreated before troopers within the building could catch him, said Ohio State Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Craig Cvetan.
Windows were boarded up early Friday and workers were placing plywood over undamaged windows out of precaution.
Protesters in Atlanta appeared to shove officers and throw water bottles at authorities while protesting the death of George Floyd.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock called for calm and unity Friday after the first of several planned city protests over George Floyd’s death turned violent, declaring, “Let not the story be about the riots and protests. Let’s keep the focus on the life that was lost.”
A group of about 10 protesters gathered Friday near a home in Windermere, Fla., that belonged to erek Chauvin, the white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck.