Headlines: June 2, 2020
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Mass protests continued across the nation on Monday, exactly one week to the day since a 46-year old black man named George Floyd was killed by 4 police officers in Minneapolis in a videotaped incident. Cities around the country have been dominated by thousands of protesters chanting “Black Lives Matter” frustrated with the police killings of unarmed African Americans in their own cities. Police have continued to react with disproportionate force claiming that they are quelling the looting of businesses. But most documented incidents show police coming down with pepper spray, tear gas, flash bang grenades, and rubber bullets on largely peaceful protesters. Meanwhile many media reports and elected officials have fixated on the smashing of store windows. The Washington Post estimated that more than 60 million residents in the US have been placed under curfew, “in more than 200 U.S. cities and at least 27 states.”
On Monday evening President Donald Trump addressed the nation in a brief and provocative speech during which he threatened to invoke the US military to quell the protests. Trump’s threat is based on a rarely used law called the Insurrection Act which allows Presidents to invoke military action internally. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden denounced Trump as “fascist,” and Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky said the President, “just declared war on millions of Americans and the 1st Amendment.” Just before he spoke law enforcement authorities violently cleared Lafayette Square of peaceful protesters in order to give Trump a photo-op in front of St. John’s Church where Trump had his picture taken holding a Bible. The protesters, who were lawfully assembled half an hour before a curfew went into effect, met the criteria of the kinds of protesters Trump said he supported in his speech.
The White House later released a campaign-style video of Trump walking to the church set to triumphant music. Clergy and other officials affiliated with the church that Trump used as a backdrop denounced his actions. Rector Gini Gerbasi who had worked at St. John’s church and was among the protesters that were dispersed said, “That man turned it into a BATTLE GROUND first, and a cheap political stunt second.” Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said in response, “I am outraged. The President did not pray when he came to St. John’s, nor… did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now…we distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this President. We follow someone who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love… And I just can’t believe what my eyes have seen.” DC Mayor Muriel Bowser also chimed in saying she was “very shocked,” and “frankly outraged.” The ACLU has demanded a congressional probe into the tear gassing.
The Democratic Party’s presumptive Presidential nominee Joe Biden addressed the nation on Tuesday in response to Trump. While he slammed Trump for fanning “the flames of hate,” he also echoed an increasingly popular line among politicians by distinguishing between peaceful protests and violent ones. On Monday Biden elicited shock when he suggested that one of the ways police could reduce their violent tactics against a suspect was, “to shoot him in the leg instead of in the heart.” Biden made the controversial comments during a speech to black congregants at the Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware.
Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Kentucky fired his city’s police chief Steve Conrad after police killed a 53-year old black protester named David McAtee. McAtee was the owner of a local barbeque restaurant in Louisville and was killed when police fired into a crowd of protesters who had gathered in a parking lot early Monday morning. Louisville has been one of the centers of mass protests over the police killing of a black woman named Breonna Taylor. Police in Austin, Texas critically injured several protesters including a 20-year old black man who is in critical condition, as well as a teenager and a pregnant woman. Reuters estimates that 5 police officers have been injured nationwide.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that LA’s Police Department and the FBI are gathering protest footage to start bringing charges against protesters. More than a thousand people have been arrested in LA since the anti-police brutality protests began. The FBI has apparently put out a nationwide call for video and still footage of protesters but not of police committing acts of violence. Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison has now called for an investigation into a police attack on an Australian news crew in Washington DC. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said, “In a democratic society the role of the media is critical, and it’s important the media are able to report on events, including crises such as we’re seeing in the United States, free from harassment,” he said. “The violence that has occurred towards members of the media is completely unacceptable.”
The social media giant Twitter announced on Monday that it had taken down an account called ANTIFA_US that was set up by the white supremacist far right group Identity Evropa. The account posted an incendiary call for violence posing as advocates of Black Lives Matter. Trump has said he will declare “Antifa” – an ideology of anti-fascism not an organization – as terrorist. Meanwhile, Facebook employees, upset that their CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to allow Trump’s misinformation to go unchecked, staged a virtual walkout. After Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey began to tag some of Trump’s false claims with fact checks, Zuckerberg opined that Trump’s lies should flourish unchallenged by the platform.