Trump's 'looting' and 'shooting' remark draws outrage from all sides

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

In threatening to use the military to shoot down looters in Minneapolis, President Trump was employing a phrase apparently coined by a Miami police chief in 1967, when his city was in the throes of protests over the department’s use of “stop and frisk” tactics that targeted African-Americans. 

Trump’s post-midnight tweet Friday, later repeated by the official White House account, drew widespread condemnation from almost across the political spectrum — from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to the far-right quasi-militia Oath Keepers, whose members are drawn from the ranks of law enforcement and the military.

“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” tweeted Trump early Friday morning. “Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”

Twitter added a notice to the tweet that users had to click through in order to read the president’s post. The message read: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.” 

The phrase about looting and shooting apparently originated with Miami Police Chief Walter Headley in 1967, during violent protests over police treatment of minorities, including a notorious incident in which officers dangled a black teenager from a bridge over a river. The quote and policies are viewed as having sparked race riots in the city the following year. They were later endorsed by Spiro Agnew, the Republican candidate for vice president in 1968. Agnew later explained that he only meant to endorse shooting looters who were “running from arrest.”

Later Friday, Trump tweeted an intended clarification, saying his point was that “looting leads to shooting,” and the warning was meant as a “fact, not as a statement.” 

Following the tweet, Trump held an event on Friday afternoon to discuss policy with Hong Kong and China but did not take questions.

The Twin Cities have been rocked by demonstrations that turned violent Thursday over the death of George Floyd, who died after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck Monday. Floyd, who was unarmed and handcuffed on the ground at the time, was heard on video repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” Chauvin and three other officers present during the incident were immediately fired. Chauvin was arrested Friday afternoon and charged with third-degree murder. The other three officers have not been arrested.

Trump’s comments received pushback from many sources.

“I will not lift the President’s tweet,” wrote Biden in response Friday morning. “I will not give him that amplification. But he is calling for violence against American citizens during a moment of pain for so many. I’m furious, and you should be too.”

“This is no time for incendiary tweets; it’s no time to encourage violence,” said Biden in an afternoon live stream without mentioning Trump by name. “This is a national crisis. We need leadership right now. Leadership that will bring everyone to the table so we can take measures to root out systemic racism.”

“I did not know he was going to tweet; he certainly can,” said Gov. Tim Walz, D-Minn. “It's just not helpful. The city of Minneapolis is doing everything they can. If mistakes are made and there’s accountability, we need to do that, but in the moment where we’re at, in a moment that is so volatile, anything we do to add fuel to that fire is really, really challenging. I spoke to the president, he pledged his support of anything we need in terms of supplies to get to us — there’s a way to do this without inflaming."

A shop was set on fire on Thursday, during the third day of protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Jordan Strowder/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“National Guardsman would be DUTY BOUND to refuse those orders to shoot people for stealing,” said the Oath Keepers in a statement. “Arson, yes, since it’s deadly. Stealing? I’m sure we’ll catch grief over stating this, but it needed to be said. Right [is] right, wrong is wrong. We have laws, and the Supreme Law of the Land is the U.S. Constitution. It was wrong to shoot looters in New Orleans during Katrina, and men went to jail for doing it. No. President Trump, you have a good chance to do the right thing here, to be sure justice is done. Don’t be on the wrong side of history.” 

Singer Taylor Swift’s tweet criticizing the president garnered over 150,000 retweets. 

“After stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism your entire presidency, you have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence? ‘When the looting starts the shooting starts’??? We will vote you out in November,” wrote Swift.

Sean Hannity’s website took a different approach, focused on criticism of Trump’s use of “thugs” to describe the protesters — pointing out that after riots in Baltimore in 2015, President Barack Obama had referred to “a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place.” 

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