Following a weekend in which protests over the death of George Floyd raged in virtually every major American city, President Trump on Monday told U.S. governors they were “weak” for not being more aggressive in enforcing laws against the demonstrations.
“You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time,” Trump said during a video teleconference with governors, law enforcement and national security officials, audio of which was obtained by CBS News.
“They’re going to run over you,” the president said. “You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.”
“You’ve got to arrest people,” he continued. “You have to track people. You have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again.”
Trump’s comments came after a weekend of unrest over the death of Floyd, a black man who died after being pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer one week ago. In cities across the country, protesters broke curfews, set fires and looted stores, and police responded with shows of force, lobbing flash-bangs, spraying tear gas and firing rubber bullets.
In Washington, D.C., on Sunday, fires burned as demonstrators clashed with law enforcement for the third straight evening outside the White House. On Friday night, Secret Service agents rushed Trump to a White House bunker designed for use in emergencies like terrorist attacks as hundreds of protesters fought with police about 100 yards from the executive mansion.
The entire Washington, D.C., National Guard was called in to help with the response to protests outside the White House. On the teleconference, Trump suggested there would be a bigger show of force moving forward.
“Washington was under very good control, but we’re going to have it under much more control,” Trump said. “We’re going to pull in thousands of people.”
He added: “We’re going to clamp down very, very strong.”
The president has yet to formally address the nation about the roiling discord, instead tweeting various complaints about the media’s coverage of the protests and blaming the violence on far-left activists.
He did so again on the call with governors, claiming that the violence “is coming from the radical left — you know it, everybody knows it.”
“But it’s also looters, and it’s people that figure they can get free stuff by running into stores and running out with television sets,” he said. “I saw it — a kid has a lot of stuff, he puts it in the back of a brand-new car and drives off. You have every one of these guys on tape. Why aren’t you prosecuting them? Now, the harder you are, the tougher you are, the less likely you’re going to be hit.”
In a statement, Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer criticized Trump’s remarks.
“The president repeatedly and viciously attacked governors, who are doing everything they can to keep the peace while fighting a once-in-a-generation pandemic,” Whitmer said. “The president’s dangerous comments should be gravely concerning to all Americans, because they send a clear signal that this administration is determined to sow the seeds of hatred and division, which I fear will only lead to more violence and destruction.”
Whitmer contrasted the tone of Trump’s call with an essay published by former President Barack Obama calling on protesters to turn their “justifiable anger” into action.
“This is a moment that calls for empathy, humanity and unity,” she said. “It’s time for all of us to pull together and do the hard work of building a nation that works for everyone.”
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