WASHINGTON – The mayor of the nation’s capital called it “shameful” that police forcefully removed protesters from the White House before the city’s 7 p.m. curfew to apparently clear the way for the president to walk to St. John’s Church.
Under heavy protection, President Donald Trump and several members of his administration, including Attorney General William Barr, walked across a park to St. John’s Church and posed for photos before returning to the White House.
At about 6:30 p.m. law enforcement officers cleared Lafayette Park with tear gas, rubber bullets, shields and horses. Trump had yet to appear for his comments in the Rose Garden as the protesters, who at the time were peaceful, were being pushed back.
At 6:44 p.m., Trump began his comments by pledging to be a “law and order” president as officers continued to push protesters blocks away from where he was standing, using some form of projectile.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser wrote in a tweet that “A full 25 minutes before the curfew w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protesters in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of @DCPoliceDept officers more difficult.”
“Shameful!” she continued, and concluded by urging residents to go home and be safe.
Though the Rose Garden was not within view of the protesters, reporters awaiting Trump’s speech reported hearing a series of loud booms.
Trump announced Monday that he is sending additional federal resources to help the nation’s capital city quell violent protests.
“These are not acts of peaceful protest,” Trump said of the unrest. “These are acts of domestic terror.”
St. John’s Church was set on fire by protesters Sunday night. Trump held up a Bible in front of the boarded-up church, which is referred to as the “church of presidents.” St. John’s was built in 1815 and has been attended at least once by every president since James Madison.
There have been demonstrations against police brutality and racial discrimination across the countries in dozens of cities after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died in Minneapolis police custody last week after a white officer pinned him to the ground under his knee.
The protests in D.C. have been unruly, causing Trump to be moved to the White House’s underground bunker Friday night to shelter in place briefly as the protest grew outside the Executive Mansion. There were multiple fires and break-ins reported near the White House Sunday night.
Libby Garvey, who is a board member for Arlington County, one of D.C’s neighboring suburbs, tweeted about withdrawing mutual aid police because she’s appalled by what happened for the “photo op.”
Other D.C. city council members weighed in, as well, condemning the use of force.
Councilmember David Grosso tweeted that “These actions are sickening. Protesters are calling for an end to violence by police and the state and the President is throwing gas on the fire by calling them terrorists and sending the military into our city to enforce the mayor’s curfew.”
Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau hit Trump over the photo opportunity, writing, “POTUS makes a speech doubling down on 2nd amendt, no mention of the 1st amendt, deploys every type of fed police he can find, then tear gases civilians peacefully gathered so he can walk to the church pose with bible? No thanks. DC can handle its own business.”
Monday’s demonstrations marked a week after the death of Floyd. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged in his death.
Contributing: David Jackson, Michael Collins, Kevin Johnson, Rebecca Morin, Caren Bohan, Matthew Brown, Chelsey Cox, Nicholas Wu