District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser said Tuesday that local police took no part in what she called a “shameful” assault by the National Guard and federal law enforcement on protesters that cleared the way for President Donald Trump to have photos taken in front of a historic church.
Trump “wanted a show of force in D.C.,” Bowser said, referring to Guard and federal officers using tear gas, flash bangs and rubber bullets against protesters across from the White House on Monday evening.
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Senior defense officials said Tuesday that the Guard troops who took part in clearing the streets were not equipped with tear gas or other crowd control measures and did not use any in working with an interagency force.
The assault Monday evening was unprovoked, Bowser said, and came ahead of the 7 p.m. curfew she had imposed in an effort to quell violence and looting. Those had marred earlier protests in the District and nationwide over George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died last week in police custody in Minneapolis.
Response to the actions in the District, as well as Trump’s warning that he might send active-duty combat troops to quell riots, broke down along partisan lines in Congress.
Possibly the most confrontational comments on the Democrats’ side came from Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a former Marine captain and veteran of four tours in Iraq.
In a statement, Moulton said active-duty troops should be prepared to risk court-martial by defying any orders to go into states to put down protests.
“If [Trump] chooses to abuse the military as a tyrant would do — to stifle dissent, suppress freedom, and cement inequality — then I call on all our proud young men and women in uniform, as a veteran and a patriot, to lay down your arms, uphold your oath, and join this new march for freedom,” Moulton said.
Sen. Tim Scott, a black South Carolina Republican, said violence stemming from the protests dishonors the memory of Floyd, whose death was the result of a white police officer kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes.
“The importance of having order in our communities is an absolutely essential component of us being able to have justice for Mr. Floyd,” he told reporters.
At a news conference with D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, Bowser noted that she has little influence on Trump under the District’s limited home rule. But she urged the president to reconsider his threat to send active-duty combat troops into the states and the District to restore order unless local authorities take action.
“I heard what you all heard about the president saying he wanted all manner of civilian and military might” to quell civil unrest, Bowser said. “We all heard that ominous warning.
“We don’t want armed National Guard, armed military — we don’t want any of those things on D.C. streets,” she added. “I would regard that as an affront to even our limited home rule and the safety of the District of Columbia, absolutely.”
Newsham said he received warning that the president would be moving out of the White House, but stressed that his department played no part in clearing streets to allow Trump to walk to the north end of Lafayette Square, where he posed with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal church, known as the “church of presidents.”
“We were not involved in the movement of the president, the unplanned movement of the president,” Newsham said.
He added that D.C. police later made more than 300 arrests, mostly for curfew violations but also for burglary and looting.
Newsham said the police also “had to use some munitions” for crowd control to disperse a group at Judiciary Square, the court buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol.
In a Twitter post Tuesday morning, Trump defended the actions to clear the streets: “D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination. Likewise, Minneapolis was great (thank you President Trump!).”
The interagency force that cleared the streets near Lafayette Square on Monday evening included the National Guard; mounted U.S. Park Police; the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the U.S. Marshals Service; and the Bureau of Prisons, according to the Justice Department.
On Twitter, Bowser wrote, “A full 25 minutes before the curfew & w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protestors in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of @DCPoliceDept officers more difficult. Shameful!”
Episcopal Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde said she was blindsided and “outraged” that Trump used St. John’s, one of the churches in her diocese, for a photo opportunity.
Trump used a Bible “at one of our churches without permission as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for,” Budde told CNN. “We distance ourselves from the incendiary language of this president.”
Trump also came under criticism from Washington, D.C.’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Wilton Gregory for his visit Tuesday with first lady Melania Trump to the Saint Pope John Paul II National Shrine in Northeast Washington, about four miles from the White House.
In a statement similar to the remarks by Budde, Gregory said Saint Pope John Paul II “certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate [the protesters] for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”
— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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