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Police fire rubber bullets, tear gas to disperse peaceful protest near White House

Reuters | Washington DC | Updated: 02-06-2020 11:39 IST | Created: 02-06-2020 09:36 IST
Police fire rubber bullets, tear gas to disperse peaceful protest near White House
Representative Image Image Credit: CNN

President Donald Trump on Monday vowed to use the U.S. military to halt protests over the death of a black man in police custody before law enforcement officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas to clear demonstrators and allow the president to walk to a church and pose for pictures. As darkness fell, hours after the president's remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House, violence erupted for the seventh consecutive night. Demonstrators set fire to a strip mall in Los Angeles and looted stores in New York City.

"Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled," Trump said. "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." Following his address, Trump walked from the White House through the area that had just been cleared for him to nearby St. John's Episcopal Church, where he clutched a Bible as he posed for pictures with his daughter, Ivanka and U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church diocese in Washington D. C. Michale Curry was among those who criticized Trump's use of the historic church for a photo opportunity. "In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes," he said on Twitter.

The security forces that moved against protesters at the White House included National Guard military police, Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security police as well as District of Columbia police. The White House said it was clearing the area ahead of a curfew. Reporters in the Rose Garden said they could hear small explosions outside the White House as the security forces pushed back the protesters as Trump was speaking, including his assertion he was "allied with the protesters".

A few hours after the Washington fracas, thousands of people marched through the streets of Brooklyn, shouting "justice now!" while cars drove alongside, some drivers honking in support. Television images showed throngs looting luxury stores along with Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, one of the cities toniest shopping districts, before the city's 11 p.m. curfew. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the curfew would be moved to 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

In Hollywood, dozens of people were shown in television images looting a Rite-Aid drug store after the front door was smashed. Windows were shattered at a nearby Starbucks, a noodle shop, and a kebab restaurant. The suspects scattered as several police cars showed up. Anti-police brutality marches and rallies, which have turned violent after dark each night over the last week, erupted over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died in Minneapolis police custody after being pinned beneath a white officer's knee for nearly nine minutes.

A second autopsy ordered by Floyd's family and released on Monday found that his death was a homicide by "mechanical asphyxiation," meaning that physical force interfered with his oxygen supply. The report says three officers contributed to Floyd's death. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner then released details of its autopsy findings that also said Floyd's death was a homicide caused by asphyxiation. The county report added that 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 kneeled on Floyd, was arrested on third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. Three other officers involved in the arrest have not been charged. Floyd's death was the latest case of police brutality against black men caught on videotape and prompting an outcry over racism in U.S. law enforcement.

It 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. Dozens of cities across the United States remain under curfews not seen since riots after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The National Guard deployed in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

Most Americans were just emerging from weeks of strict "stay-at-home" orders imposed due to the pandemic. On Monday, dozens of people paid their respects to Floyd outside Cup Foods, the scene of his death, leaving flowers and signs. A little girl wrote, "I'll fight with you," in aqua blue chalk in the road.

Terrence Floyd, the victim's brother, told the gathering he wanted people to get educated and vote rather than resort to violence and destruction. "Let's do this another way," he said. James Pool, a 31-year-old former Marine, said he is hopeful peaceful protests will make a difference as he marched past the Minnesota Governor's Residence in St. Paul, the state capital. "I want to see more community and this country come together and stop letting the powers that be divide us," he said. "Because that is exactly what they have done. They want to keep us in fear of each other."


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