A member of the St. Louis Fire Department wraps up their work outside a vandalized and burned convenience store, Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in St. Louis. On Monday night people were seen removing items from the store before the building went up in flames and after a large peaceful protest against the death of George Floyd who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25 had ended. (Photo: AP)
President Donald Trump stepped up the pressure on governors to crack down after a week of unrest set off by the death of George Floyd, demanding New York call in the National Guard to stop the “lowlifes and losers.”
As cities around the U.S. witnessed a seventh straight night of both peaceful demonstrations and bursts of theft, vandalism and attacks on police, the president amplified his hard-line calls of a day earlier, in which he threatened to send in the military to restore order if governors didn’t do it.
“NYC, CALL UP THE NATIONAL GUARD,” he tweeted. “The lowlifes and losers are ripping you apart. Act fast! Don’t make the same horrible and deadly mistake you made with the Nursing Homes!!!”
In New York on Monday night, people smashed shop windows near Rockefeller Center and breached the doors of Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street despite the first curfew in the city in decades. Police said nearly 700 people were arrested and several officers injured in the overnight violence.
New York and other cities braced for more unrest after nightfall Tuesday, with Mayor Bill de Blasio extending an 8 p.m. curfew all week.
“We’re going to have a tough few days,” he warned, but added: “We’re going to beat it back.” He said he would do that with the help of community leaders, urging them to step forward: “Create peace. ... Stand up.”
More than 20,000 National Guard members have been called up in 29 states to deal with the unrest. New York is not among them. De Blasio has said he does not want the National Guard, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will not send it into the city against the mayor’s wishes.
Violence gripped communities from coast to coast again on Monday night, with police officers shot, run over and showered with rocks and bottles.
In Philadelphia, hundreds of protesters spilled onto a highway in the heart of the city. In Atlanta, police fired tear gas at demonstrators. In Nashville, more than 60 National Guard members put down their riot shields at the request of peaceful protesters. And at a demonstration in Buffalo, New York, an SUV plowed into a group of officers, injuring three.
“We have been sitting on a powder keg for some time and it has burst,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.
Bystander Sean Jones, who watched as people ransacked luxury stores in New York over the weekend, said: “People are doing this so next time, before they think about trying to kill another black person, they’re going to be like, ’Damn, we don’t want them out here doing this ... again.’”
Democratic governors and mayors rejected Trump’s threat to send in the military, questioning whether the federal government has such authority and warning that such a step would be incendiary.
De Blasio said military troops would create “a dangerous scenario,” while Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock likewise warned such a move would just lead to more violence and destruction.
“Denver is not Little Rock in 1957, and Donald Trump is not President Eisenhower. This is a time for healing, for bringing people together, and the best way to protect civil rights is to move away from escalating violence,” they said in a statement.
A senior White House official said Tuesday that despite Trump’s threats, the goal was to pressure governors to deploy more National Guard members. The president was not rushing to use the Insurrection Act to send in the military, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The unrest in Minneapolis, meanwhile, appeared to stabilize on the same day Floyd’s brother made an impassioned plea for peace at the spot where a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, put his knee on the handcuffed black man’s neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.
Chauvin has been charged with murder. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Tuesday that prosecutors were working as fast as they can to determine if the three other officers at the scene should be charged, too. All four have been fired.
The death toll from the unrest rose to at least nine, including two people killed in a Chicago suburb. More than 5,600 people nationwide have been arrested over the past week for such offenses as stealing, blocking highways and breaking curfew, according to a count by The Associated Press.
An officer was shot shortly before midnight near the Circus Circus casino in Las Vegas. Police had no immediate word on the officer’s condition. Four officers were shot in St. Louis; they were expected to recover.
Cities struggled to keep police in line and avoid instances of excessive force. The police chief in Louisville, Kentucky, was fired after a beloved restaurant owner was killed by police and National Guard members enforcing a curfew. In Richmond, Virginia, the police chief said officers who used tear gas on a group of peaceful protesters would be disciplined.
Sending the military into the states would mark a stunning federal intervention rarely seen in modern American history. It drew comparisons to 1968, when Richard Nixon ran as the law-and-order candidate in the aftermath of riots following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Federal law allows presidents to dispatch the military into states to suppress an insurrection or if a state is defying federal law, legal experts said. But some state officials asserted that the president does not have a unilateral right to send in troops against the will of local governments.