As protests spread across the United States over the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, President Donald Trump said he supports the right of peaceful protests, but opposed the ongoing violence and vandalism which dishonors Floyd’s memory.
“I understand the pain that people are feeling. We support the right of peaceful protests and we hear their pleas, but what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with the memory of George Floyd,” Trump said Saturday in his remarks from Cape Canaveral, Florida, where SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts into orbit.
Floyd, a black man, died Monday after his neck was pinned down by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Though Floyd repeatedly stated that he couldn't breathe, the officer, identified as Derek Chauvin, did not remove his knee until several minutes after Floyd stopped moving.
Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Floyd's family is seeking an independent autopsy after preliminary findings by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner found that "the cause of death was not asphyxiation, but rather appeared to be 'the combined effects of Mr. Floyd's being restrained by police, underlying health conditions, and any potential intoxicants in his system.'"
Antonio Romanucci, co-counsel in the case, stated, "What we know is clear: George Floyd was alive before his encounter with police, and he was dead after that encounter. We believe there is clear proximity between the excessive use of force and his death."
By Wednesday, protests erupted in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and by the weekend they spread to several other cities, including Memphis, Los Angeles, San Jose, Louisville, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Detroit, Portland, New York City, and Washington, D.C., among others. While some demonstrators have remained peaceful, others have resorted to violence.
At least one person died after being shot in downtown Indianapolis Saturday night, according to NPR. Police Chief Randal Taylor said at a press conference that an investigation was on to determine if it was connected to ongoing demonstrations in the city.
“The violence and vandalism is being led by Antifa and other radical left-wing groups who are terrorizing the innocent, destroying jobs, hurting businesses and burning down buildings,” said Trump, who called Floyd’s death “a grave tragedy” that “should never have happened.”
“The main victims of this horrible, horrible situation are the citizens who live in these once-lovely communities ... The mobs are devastating the life’s work of good people and destroying their dreams. We support the overwhelming majority of police officers who are incredible in every way and devoted to public service.”
Attorney General William Barr also condemned the violence.
“Unfortunately, with the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful protest are being hijacked by violent radical elements,” Barr said in a statement Saturday, assuring the people that “justice will be served.”
“Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate and violent agenda,” he said. “In many places, it appears the violence is planned, organized, and driven by anarchistic and far-left extremists, using Antifa-like tactics, many of whom travel from out of state to promote the violence.”
He warned that “it is a federal crime to cross state lines or to use interstate facilities to incite or participate in violent rioting. We will enforce these laws.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter also said Saturday that a majority of the rioters are from out of state.
After two days of violent demonstrations in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom late Saturday declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles county and city, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Earlier on Saturday, shops at The Grove mall in the Fairfax district, including Nordstrom and the Apple Store, were vandalized and looted, and a small police kiosk was set on fire.
In Washington, D.C., protesters clashed with U.S. Secret Service and police officers on Saturday afternoon and evening, according to The Washington Post.
A reporter, Leland Vittert, who was at the White House and who had covered the 2011 Arab Spring and ousting of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak for Fox News, described the situation, saying: “This was the scariest situation I’ve been in since I got chased out of Tahrir Square by a mob, and this was equally scary.”