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DC officials push back on aggressive response to protests

PTI | Washington DC | Updated: 03-06-2020 11:55 IST | Created: 03-06-2020 11:55 IST
DC officials push back on aggressive response to protests

Officials in the nation's capital pushed back on an aggressive response by the federal government to demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, with the mayor flatly rejecting a Trump administration proposal for the federal government to take over its police force and one county in Virginia pulling its officers from Washington. The federal government has deployed law enforcement officials from numerous agencies, and National Guard troops from a number of states have been sent to the District of Columbia. Attorney General William Barr, who is directing the federal law enforcement response in the city, promised by Tuesday “even greater law enforcement resources and support in the region." District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser said the Trump administration floated the idea of taking over the Metropolitan Police Department, a proposal she strongly rejected. She threatened to take legal action if the federal government attempted to do so.

But there were signs that the federal response would be even more aggressive Tuesday night, as Washington prepared for a fifth night of protests. Hours before a 7 pm curfew for the second night in a row, cars were being stopped at military checkpoints in downtown Washington and a cavalry of armoured military vehicles could be seen driving through the district. Businesses were boarding up windows with plywood in anticipation of another night of violence after fires were set, windows were shattered, store shelves were emptied and dozens of police officers were injured in days of protests.

Two Defense Department officials said the Trump administration had ordered military aircraft to fly above Washington on Monday night as a “show of force” against demonstrators protesting the death of Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis policeman pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after Floyd stopped moving and pleading for air. Police made over 300 arrests, mainly for violating the district's curfew. Earlier Monday evening, law enforcement officers on foot and horseback moved aggressively to clear protesters away from Lafayette Park near the White House in advance of President Donald Trump's walk to a nearby church for a photo opportunity.

After participating in the show of force, Arlington County in Virginia pulled out its officers, saying they were used “for a purpose not worthy of our mutual aid obligations.” County Board Chair Libby Garvey said on Twitter she's “appalled” that the mutual aid agreement was abused “for a photo op.” In a phone interview, Garvey said the aid request came from U.S. Park Police, and that the agencies have aided each other routinely over the years. She said Arlington Police had helped in Washington on Saturday and Sunday without incident. Arlington County officials said in a statement their officers never wielded their batons and did not fire rubber bullets or tear gas. But after watching the scene unfold on live television, the police chief ordered all the officers to return to Virginia.

“This unprecedented decision by the County was a necessary response to an unprecedented situation,” the statement said. Officials said they were reevaluating the mutual aid agreements to ensure officers “are never again put in a situation where they are asked to take action that is inconsistent with our values.” The US Park Police on Tuesday defended its actions at the park, saying it issued three warnings over a loudspeaker before clearing the area of protesters, some of whom they said were becoming violent, throwing projectiles and trying to grab weapons. It said it used smoke canisters and pepper balls to disperse the crowd.

Barr ordered law enforcement officials to clear the park and push back the perimeter around the White House when he arrived there Monday evening, ahead of the president's remarks, leading to police using force to disperse protesters, a person familiar with the matter told the AP. Officials had met Monday morning and decided the perimeter had to be moved by at least one full block, which was expected to happen by Monday afternoon, after multiple fires were set in the park the night before, the person said. When Barr arrived, he was surprised it hadn't been done and directed action to be taken, according to the person, who could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

Monday, in a call with governors, Trump and Barr had encouraged more aggressive action against those who cause violence during protests across the country. The call raised questions about whether using more aggressive law enforcement measures against demonstrators protesting police brutality would only increase tensions.

Trump said he was “taking immediate presidential action to stop the violence and restore security and safety in America.” The president urged governors to deploy the National Guard, which he credited with helping calm the situation Sunday night in Minneapolis, and demanded that similarly tough measures be taken in cities that also experienced spasms of violence, including New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles..


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