WASHINGTON/MINNEAPOLIS—President Donald Trump on June 1 vowed to end violent protests in major cities across the nation “now,” saying that he would deploy the military if mayors and state governors refused to call out the National Guard. As Trump spoke in the Rose Garden of the White House, live television images showed police firing crowd control devices to dispel demonstrators in Lafayette Park, across the street.
“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.”
The demonstrations, largely peaceful during the day but turning violent after dark, have 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 June 1 found that his death was a homicide by “mechanical asphyxiation,” meaning some physical force interfered with his oxygen supply. The report says three officers contributed to Floyd’s death.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner on June 1 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.
The new findings emerged after Trump spoke to the governors earlier in the day.
“You have to dominate,” he told them in a private call obtained by Reuters. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time—they’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”
Trump said the federal government was going to clamp down “very strong” on the violence. National Guard troops were deployed near the White House on the evening of June 1.
Dozens of cities across the United States remain under curfews at levels not seen since riots that broke out following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The National Guard deployed in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the outbreaks of violence—which left stores ransacked, police vehicles burned, and other destruction in spots around the city—left them no choice, even as they insisted they stood with the throngs of peaceful demonstrators who have spoken out for several days against police brutality and racial injustice.
“We can’t let violence undermine the message of this moment,” de Blasio said in a statement. Cuomo blamed “people who are looking to distract and discredit” the protests and said they couldn’t be allowed to undermine public safety.
One person was killed in Louisville, Kentucky, overnight where police and National Guard troops returned fire while trying to disperse a crowd. Police in Chicago fielded some 10,000 calls for looting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
The unrest, which erupted as the country was easing sweeping lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus, began with peaceful protests over Floyd’s death.
Derek Chauvin, a since-fired 44-year-old officer, has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
On June 1, dozens of people paid their respects to Floyd outside Cup Foods, the scene of his death. Visitors left flowers and signs honoring Floyd. A little girl wrote, “I’ll fight with you,” in aqua blue chalk in the road.
“This is therapeutic. My heart was real heavy this morning so I came down extra early and when I got here, the heaviness lifted,” said Diana Jones, 40, the mother of four children. “This right here let’s me know that things are going to be OK.”
Terrence Floyd, the victim’s brother, told the gathering he wanted people to get educated, vote, and not destroy their own communities. “Let’s do this another way,” he said.
Floyd’s death was the latest to prompt an outcry over racism in law enforcement. It reignited outrage across a politically and racially divided country that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with African Americans accounting for a disproportionately high number of cases.
The U.S. Justice Department has directed the Bureau of Prisons to send riot-control teams to Miami and Washington to help manage the protests, a department official told reporters.
Department investigators are interviewing people arrested during protests who might face federal charges for such offenses as crossing state lines to incite violence, the official said.
Many cities affected by the unrest are allowing some businesses to reopen after more than two months of stay-at-home orders to stem a pandemic that has killed more than 104,000 people and left 40 million others jobless.
Trump has condemned the killing of Floyd and promised justice.
Critics accuse the Republican president, who is seeking re-election in November, of stoking conflict and racial tension when he should be uniting the nation and addressing underlying issues.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden met with black community leaders in a church and said he would create a police oversight board within his first 100 days in the White House if elected.
At least 4,400 people have been arrested nationwide as peaceful protests expressing grief and anger over the police custody death of Floyd have in many cases been marred by looting, violence, and arson.
According to a count compiled by The Associated Press, the several thousand arrests have been for such offenses as blocking highways, theft, and assault.
While thousands marched peacefully in Albuquerque and Phoenix, with some calling for an end to riots and looting, elsewhere there was widespread violence against property and people.
Fires burned near the White House, stores were looted in Southern California, and disturbing footage of violent acts flooded social media, including of a mob beating an elderly female shop owner in Rochester, New York.
Another disturbing incident caught on camera took place in Dallas, where a man reported to be a store owner defending his shop with a sword was set upon by a mob and beaten unconscious.
Struggling to cope with the civil unrest, local law enforcement was reinforced by around 5,000 members of the National Guard, which deployed to 15 states and Washington, according to Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“The hardest mission we do is responding in times of civil unrest,” Lengyel said in a statement.
The Minnesota National Guard said in a tweet it had deployed more than 4,100 personnel to the area and expected this would increase at least twofold.
Elsewhere in the country, a protest along the historic Route 66 into downtown Albuquerque turned violent early June 1 after police reported demonstrators setting small fires, and officers said they were fired upon.
David Shepardson & Brendan O’Brien
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect a statement from the United States Park Police that clarified that tear gas was not used against protestors at Lafayette Park. Crowd control devices such as smoke canisters and pepper balls were used instead.