Headlines: June 3, 2020
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Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday broke with President Donald Trump on the use of active duty US military personnel to quell mass protests against racist police violence. During a Pentagon briefing this is what Esper said: “The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.” Esper was responding to President Trump’s Monday announcement at the White House that he would use the US military to control protesters. Esper is reeling from accusations of participating in the President’s widely denounced photo-op in front of St. John’s church. Just before Trump was photographed holding a Bible in front of the church, authorities used tear gas and other violent tactics to clear Lafayette Square of peaceful protesters so Trump could walk along with officials like Esper from the White House to the church. In an interview with NBC Esper said he had “no idea” about the plan to disperse protesters. On Tuesday a top official with the Defense Science Board, James N. Miller, wrote a scathing resignation letter to Esper in the Washington Post saying, “You may not have been able to stop President Trump from directing this appalling use of force, but you could have chosen to oppose it. Instead, you visibly supported it.”
It emerged on Tuesday that Attorney General William Barr personally directed the Monday use of force to clear peaceful protesters right as Trump was giving a speech about ostensibly supporting peaceful protesters. It has also emerged that on Monday Trump floated the idea of the federal government taking over the DC police. The Washington Post described the idea as an, “unprecedented request” that, “sent District leaders scrambling to head off what they regarded as tantamount to a government overthrow.” Trump, angry about the extensive news coverage of the violent police actions in DC is now demanding that press outlets retract their claim that police used tear gas on protesters. Except that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a government agency, defines precisely the agents that DC police used on protesters as “tear gas.” Even some Republican Senators have spoken out against Trump’s actions but the President pushed back saying, they got it wrong and accusing the peaceful protesters of violence.
On Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continued his uncritical defense of Trump by blocking a resolution condemning the violence aimed at protesters. Trump has also come under fire for censoring the US military’s service chiefs from speaking out in support of the protests. In spite of the Defense Department’s opposition to domestic military deployment the Trump administration has moved 1,600 US Army troops into the DC area. Meanwhile, facing widespread ridicule over his descent into the White House bunker last week as protests raged outside, Trump is now attempting to claim that he didn’t hide in the White House bunker – he just went into it for “an inspection.”
Meanwhile protests have continued this week over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. Media outlets painted the actions as largely peaceful. Many cities have imposed curfews in order to curtail the civic actions. According to AP more than 9,000 people have been arrested overall and 12 deaths have been reported although the details are still being investigated. There was yet another militant protest attracting thousands of people in Lafayette Square, Washington DC in front of the White House on Tuesday evening. Elsewhere heavy-handed responses continued. In New York police arrested near 300 people, which was less than half the number arrested the day before. In Los Angeles, thousands of people converged in front of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s house demanding he take action against his city’s police which has the highest murder toll of any department in the nation.
In Minneapolis, the epicenter of these protests, state Attorney General Keith Ellison plans to make an announcement about charges for the three additional officers involved in George Floyd’s killing. Meanwhile the state of Minnesota’s Human Rights Department has charged the Minneapolis Police Department with civil rights violations over Floyd’s killing. On Wednesday the New York Times published an analysis of the MPD’s use of force showing a clear racist trend. According to the Times, “Minneapolis Police Use Force Against Black People at 7 Times the Rate of Whites.” Specifically, “Since 2015, the Minneapolis police have documented using force about 11,500 times. For at least 6,650 acts of force, the subject of that force was black.” And, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against Minneapolis police for their brutal targeting of journalists during the George Floyd protests.
Seven states and the District of Columbia held primary elections on Tuesday and Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden – the only candidate actively running in the race – unsurprisingly won all races, inching closer to snagging the requisite number of delegates to formally becoming his party’s nominee. Reuters reported, “Confusion, missing mail-in ballots and long lines at some polling centers.” In Iowa, the virulently racist and white supremacist Congressman Steve King lost his seat in the Republican Party’s primary, prompting cheers of victory from anti-racist advocates. And in Ferguson, Missouri, which 6 years ago was the epicenter of police brutality protests, a black woman has been elected mayor. Ella Jones, a Ferguson City Council member becomes her city’s first black leader and first female leader. Meanwhile President Trump has announced that this year’s Republican National Convention will move from its planned location in North Carolina to another as yet unnamed state.
In other news, former deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee over the wiretapping of a former Trump campaign staffer Carter Page. Pushed by Senators like Lindsey Graham Rosenstein now says he would not have authorized the surveillance, handing Republicans a victory over a talking point they have fixed on for months. The State Department’s former Inspector General Steve Linick, fired by Trump under a cloud of suspicion, also testified before Congress. He appeared in a closed-door session before several House and Senate committees and in his opening statement he implied his firing was politically motivated.
In international news, mass protests unfolded in Paris, France over the death of a black man – similar to the anti-police brutality protests in the US. The black French man named Adama Traore had been taken into custody in 2016 and died after several police officers pinned him down using their body weight, similar to the conditions under which George Floyd was killed. After French authorities exonerated the officers, protests exploded in the capital.
Finally, the US plans to block flights from China in the latest salvo of tensions between the two nations. The move is apparently retaliation for China’s refusal to resume flights from the US. The Trump administration has also said it will take action over China’s new anti-sedition laws in Hong Kong but Beijing says it has no plans to curtail the controversial bill. Finally British Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded to China’s move saying he will be offering a path to British citizenship for about 3 million Hong Kongers.