At least five US police officers were shot and wounded during violent protests over the death of a black man in police custody, police and media said, hours after President Donald Trump vowed to deploy the military if unrest did not stop.
Trump deepened outrage on Monday by posing at a church across from the White House clutching a Bible after law enforcement officers used teargas and rubber bullets to clear protesters.
The US Secret Service, charged with protecting the president, yesterday closed down until further notice the streets around the White House, media reports said.
Demonstrators set fire to a strip mall in Los Angeles, looted stores in New York City and clashed with police in St Louis, Missouri, where four officers were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
An emotional St Louis police commissioner, John Hayden, said about 200 protesters were looting and hurling fireworks and rocks at officers.
“They had officers with gas poured on them. What is going on? How can this be? Mr Floyd was killed somewhere else and they are tearing up cities all across the country,” he told reporters.
A police officer was shot during protests in Las Vegas, police there said in a statement. Another officer was “involved in a shooting” in the same area, the police said. Officers were injured in clashes elsewhere, including one who was in critical condition after being hit by a car in the Bronx, police said.
Trump, a Republican, has condemned the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died after a white policeman pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25, and has promised justice.
But, with marches and rallies for racial equality and against police brutality having turned violent late each day in the last week, he said rightful protests could not be drowned out by an “angry mob.”
“If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said.
Houston police chief Art Acevedo in an interview with CNN advised Trump to ‘keep mouth shut’ after the US president advised all the governors to “dominate” the ongoing protests.
“Let me just say this to the President of the United States, on behalf of the police chiefs of this country: please, if you don’t have something constructive to say, keep your mouth shut,” he said.
He added, “It’s not about dominance, it’s about winning hearts and minds.” He also requested Trump to not put the lives of young people at risk.
A popular black restaurateur was fatally shot in Kentucky early on Monday as police and National Guard troops fired weapons while dispersing a crowd protesting against police killings of African Americans. Details were not immediately available about the circumstances of death.
The UN rights chief said yesterday the coronavirus pandemic’s disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities in the US and the protests triggered by George Floyd’s death were exposing “endemic inequalities” that must be addressed.
“This virus is exposing endemic inequalities that have too long been ignored,” Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
Floyd’s death has reignited simmering racial tensions in a politically divided country that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with African Americans accounting for a disproportionately high number of cases.
Democratic Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker yesterday urged patience, saying Americans could work through these tough issues. He pledged to take legal action if Trump carried out his military threat.
“We can bring down the temperature, but not when the president … is standing up calling for troops, and law and order, and domination,” he told MSNBC. “We will fight him, and we will take it to federal court.”
Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser, in a separate MSNBC interview yesterday, said there were no signs of active duty US military in the city overnight.
CRITICISM OF CHURCH VISIT
After his address, Trump posed for pictures with his daughter, Ivanka, and US Attorney General William Barr at St John’s Episcopal Church near the White House.
The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church diocese in Washington DC, Michael Curry, was among those who criticized Trump’s use of the historic church for a photo opportunity, reports Reuters.
“In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes,” he said on Twitter. The church suffered minor fire damage during protests on Sunday night.
Trump was scheduled to visit the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington yesterday.
In New York, television images showed crowds smashing windows and looting luxury stores along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan before the city’s 11:00 pm curfew. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the curfew would be moved to 8:00 pm.
In Hollywood, dozens of people were shown in television images looting a drug store. Windows were shattered at a nearby Starbucks and two restaurants.
A man who allegedly brought explosive materials to the demonstrations in Minneapolis from Illinois has been charged with inciting riot.
A second autopsy ordered by Floyd’s family and released on Monday found his death was homicide by “mechanical asphyxiation,” meaning physical force interfered with his oxygen supply. The report said three officers contributed to his death.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner later released autopsy findings that also called Floyd’s death homicide by asphyxiation. The county report said Floyd suffered cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by police and that he had arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use.
Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old Minneapolis police officer who planted his knee on Floyd’s neck, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers involved have not been charged.